Reduced to the core ingredient, your typical teen flick is driven by the need to have its young protagonists, after trials and tribulations, finally ‘make out’. You might argue that this sweet but melancholy film is no different – the scene in which the secondary characters Radar (Justice Smith) and Angela (Jaz Sinclair) find their thrill on a rug in the woods is especially glow-worthy – but director Jake Schreier’s piece is more ambitious than just that. The ‘paper towns’ referred to are non-existent locations that cartographers create to protect the copyright of their maps. In this case the term becomes a metaphor for the imagined reality of Quentin (Nat Wollf), a senior-high student in Orlando, Florida, who, with his mates Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar, is approaching prom night and the end of innocent childhood. He is plagued by an unrequited love for Margo (Cara Delevingne), the enigmatic, free-spirited siren with whom he has grown up as the girl next door. Rebellious and unwilling to accept the conservative tenets of her peers, Margo drops out of class and vanishes from the neighbourhood. Quentin, convinced that she has left behind a series of clues to indicate her whereabouts, embarks on a Quixotic road trip, with the gang in tow, that will take him all the way to Agloe, the chimeric town in upstate New York. Between the rupturing of their pleasant valley Sunday lives and their ultimate destination, the kids experience the usual escapades, bondings and personal revelations. The story’s details are perhaps unlikely, notably the 12-hundred mile jaunt, but there is something about a movie such as this that is irresistible to older viewers (if they are not too sophisticated to look). Corniness and cliché are, in a sense, essential to its mechanics – for whose life is not corny and clichéd? – but if kept in proportion, as they are here thanks to the personable company of Wollf and the strange allure of Delevingne, the understanding of what individuality and friendship mean can be discovered all over again.
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