Last summer, a movie called “The Fault in Our Stars” caused quite a sensation, as an adaptation of the biggest-selling novels of the wildly popular genre of books, called Young Adult novels.
Both the book and the movie were written by a man named John Green, whose intelligent and strongly emotional tale of a teen girl dying of cancer and her romance with a boy she meets in her cancer support group resonated far beyond the teen audience to score some of the year’s best reviews and a whopping $150 million at the box office.
Now another of Green’s books, “Paper Towns,” is hitting theaters this weekend, with a vastly different and more lighthearted – yet moving – story. But is it dateworthy?
The movie follows a boy nicknamed Q (Nat Wolff), who is shown as a young boy meeting and developing a friendship with a new mysterious girl named Margo (played as a teen by Carla Delavigne). She is always far more adventurous than he is, and when he becomes a study-driven teenager and she stays always in mischief, they grow distant.
Then one night, she climbs in his bedroom window and asks him to sneak out in his parents’ car and drive her on a series of nine pranks in one night. The pranks are built around revenge on her boyfriend for sleeping with her best friend, and their friends who covered up the affair from her.
Against his initial thoughts, but with his youthful feelings for her re-stoked, Q agrees to help her and they embark on a series of mildly destructive yet comically portrayed pranks. These involve sneaking into their targets’ houses and include spray painting “M” for Margo on the wall of each house, but in general they are ridiculous and not serious enough to take great moral outrage over, aside from scaring her old boyfriend into jumping out a window naked from her best friend’s house and snapping a picture of him from behind as he runs away.
The night veers nearly into romance by its end, with Margo saying she can’t wait to see Q the next day and his assuming they are now going to date. But instead she disappears, leaving a trail of mysterious clues that culminate with her saying she’s run off to a “Paper Town” – a fake town that exists only on a map to protect a map designer’s copyright. Margo believes that her hometown of Orlando is also a paper town in its own way – a pretty surface with no true meaning behind it, and her life is a quest for meaning through various adventures.
The rest of the movie becomes a very fun and often moving road trip, as Q and his buddies, plus one of their girlfriends and the girl whose car was Saran wrapped by Margo, all team up to follow clues to go find Margo at her paper town in New York state. Along the way, they wrestle with the fact that they are about to graduate and split off from each other’s lives for the first time ever while at college.
But Is It a Good Movie For a Catholic Date?
Unfortunately, this intriguing mystery involving smart, mostly moral and appealing teens is somewhat weakened by a couple of scenes involving sex talk – with each guy either goading each other to have sex or sharing fake stories of conquests they falsely claim to have already made. This ultimately culminates in one boy and his girlfriend deciding to break their decision to have sex for the first time on prom night, as they have sex while sleeping on the trip overnight, and then the boy smirks and gloats to his friends the next day.
Adults should certainly have no problem handling that content, and certainly shouldn’t dismiss “Paper Towns” as a mere flick for teens. Its sweeping sense of comic adventure and romance – the main couple stays chaste – might awaken the sense of joy and wonder that these young people maintain as they face the transition to college and adult life. And perhaps that’s a good reminder of the simple joys and pleasures to be found in life during an age when everything in society seems far too rushed and only looks good on paper.
Great acting, an amazing alt-pop score, an intriguing and unpredictable plot with lovable characters are all in the mix on “Paper Towns.” And that’s why I’m deeming it dateworthy.