Paper Towns is an ambitious attempt at joining the pack of films that turn the lives of ordinary teenagers into suburban folklore. Basically, it strives to be of same ilk as The Myth of the American Sleepover, but unfortunately just doesn't quite get there due to some unduly Hollywood influence.
The film borrows its name from an old cartographer's trick of creating fake towns in order to detect copyright infringements. This idea of creating something fake and pretending that it's real gets built on as Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) muses that the entire Orlando city in Florida where her and her neighbour Quentin ("Q") Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) grew up is a 'paper town, with paper people'.
An interesting observation from a character like Margo - who manages to be pensive, read Walt Whitman and listen to Woody Guthrie all the while also juggling the title of queen bee at high school and all the assorted parties that come with it. She's the most real and the most fake of all the characters. She's basically the girl from Wheatus' 'Teenage Dirtbag' song, but a little more sage, a little bit more poetic. And much of that aura comes from the model-turned-actress herself, Cara Delevingne (and the reason you're probably reading this review in the first place).
Paper Towns' cast are well picked, the music's pretty spot on, the cinematography's great. The film has so much going for it that it makes it even more of a shame that the first act of the narrative is just so damn choppy and disorientated. The plot couldn't help but trip up over itself in order to get started. And even though things get smoothed out later on, no amount of pretty cinematography or groovy indie songs can polish a clunky set up. What makes it even weirder is this was a screenplay written by the two poster boy screenwriters for the populist-friendly-but-still-a-little-indie rom market, Michael H Weber and Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer, The Fault in Our Stars).
Now, I haven't read Paper Towns the novel, but from my brief Wikipedia research it seems like this is just one of those situations where the book was really, really good but then Hollywood came along and wanted to make a film out of it but needed to fit it into the cookie cutter formula and by doing so took out the teeth of the story and also quite a bit of the logic. Which is a shame.
All the essences were there - Cara, the archetypical romance, the soundtrack, the quest, but all those authentic elements when orchestrated together as a whole fell flat. Paper Towns is a paper movie, but will still serve its purpose as a cinema seat-filler and as one of those films you go see when you just want a girl's night movie option.