Monday, July 27, 2015

Paper Towns

Nat Wolff – the third wheel in “The Fault in Our Stars” and the hair-trigger dangerous kid in “Palo Alto” - softens his edges considerably in the YA romantic mystery “Paper Towns” (also from a book by “Fault” scribe John Green), and here’s the movie that proves, yes, the camera truly is drawn to him.

He’s shy, sweet graduating senior Quentin Jacobsen, who’s nursed an unspoken ten-year crush on popular, enigmatic neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman (model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne). He awakens in the wee hours to find mRs (she of the random capitalization) standing over him, persuading him to join her in a night of antic revenge on the boyfriend who cheated on her, her best friend (who hid the secret), and his best friend (who told everyone). They video a detumescent wee-wee, Saran Wrap a car, Vaseline a door, depilate an eyebrow, and look out over Orlando from the top of the SunTrust Center (OK, so it ain’t Paris).

The next day, weeks from her diploma, Margo disappears, leaving behind a trail of clues for Q to suss out. He enlists his best friends, the uncool but socially high-aspiring Ben (Austin Abrams) and the nerdy Radar (Justice Smith), the only one with an actual girlfriend (cute Jaz Sinclair as Angela) but embarrassed to bring her home because of his parents’ world’s-largest collection of Black Santas. Fetching Halston Sage plays Margo’s ex-best friend Lacey Pemberton (has nobody asked Green why she’s named for a dealer on “Card Sharks”?), who it turns out had no idea Jase was cheating on her and wants to find Margo and explain the truth. The middle hour of “Paper Towns” is special, full of gently observed scenes of unexpected friendships and fortified bonds and that ineffable sense of nostalgia for the moment you’re in. The fivesome solve Margo’s puzzle leisurely, in sporadic fits of focus. There is also the hilarious way Radar finally comes clean to Angela about why she’s never been to his place: “Remember,” he begins, “when I told you I was watching a ‘Cosmos’ marathon?”

Green would probably not be pleased to hear that “Paper Towns” is at its best when Margo – its book cover – steps out of the picture. Delevingne has dark, smoldering eyes, but Margo’s more a construct than a well-defined character. She exists not as a young woman in the world but as a delivery system for Quentin’s self-discovery. Both deliver voiceovers during the scenes with Margo that bookend the movie, and here we feel the presence of the author intruding, expounding his theme that a man cannot define himself in relation to another, even if she’s, like, a total goddess.

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