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Family Movie Review: Paper Towns (PG-13)

PaperTowns ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 109 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. Lots of typical teen movie stuff, including some kisses and making out, including one glimpsed on a bed in partial undress; some jokes and talk about sex, as well as a few implied sex scenes and teenagers losing their virginity; one nude teen boy who covers his private parts onscreen; some cursing; some underage drinking, to the point of throwing up for one character; and a scene where two young children come upon a man who has committed suicide, and you see the gun and the blood on his body.

‘Paper Towns’ at first feels derivative, but some last-minute twists reveal a slick-but-fulfilling teen movie. You can guess how this will go, but that won’t keep you from enjoying it.

By Roxana Hadadi

Chances are your teens and tweens know who John Green is, and chances are they’re awaiting “Paper Towns” with baited breath. They’re half-right – the film isn’t nearly as fulfilling as last year’s Green adaptation, “The Fault In Our Stars,” but it has its own charm.

Somewhat unexpectedly, “Paper Towns” is a movie that commodifies the “normal” teenage experience, somehow championing both the nerdy boys and the pretty girls while still making a case for going to parties and attending prom and doing what everyone else is doing, even if you don’t want to at first. It’s a strange contrast, and may seem a bit hypocritical to adults, but for teenagers, “Paper Town” will speak to them. Everyone wants to be unique but no one wants to feel like they’re missing out, and the film addresses both of those adolescent yearnings effectively.

“Everyone gets a miracle,” says high school senior Quentin (Nat Wolff, of “The Fault In Our Stars”), and his miracle was being neighbors with beautiful, mysterious, clever, aloof Margo (Cara Delevingne, of “Anna Karenina”), who he’s loved for years. But while they were best friends as children, they’ve grown apart as teenagers: She’s gorgeous and popular, while he’s a little nerdy, headed for Duke University in the fall, after which he’ll become a doctor. What’s in Margo’s future isn’t clear, until she shows up in his bedroom window in the middle of the night a few weeks before graduation, asking if she can borrow Quentin’s car.

There are nine things she has to do that night, she says: “We are righting wrongs … wronging some rights,” and soon she and Quentin are driving all over town, exacting revenge on people who have angered Margo recently or who mocked or bullied Quentin years ago. He thinks the night is a turning point in their friendship, and perhaps finally a chance at something romantic, but then he wakes up the next day and Margo is gone.

Where Margo has gone to and why is all that consumes Quentin to the point that he thinks Margo is waiting for him to find her – and has left a trail of clues behind. So with his two best friends, the smart-aleck Ben (Austin Abrams, of “The Kings of Summer”) and straight-talking Radar (Justice Smith), along with Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage, of “Neighbors”) and Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), Quentin sets out to track down Margo and bring her back home.

“Paper Towns” is a lot of things, and it handles the balance smoothly, going from teen romance to heist to mystery and back, and like “The Fault In Our Stars,” includes a good amount of references that different groups of teens will get, like Walt Whitman for the literary crowd and Pokemon for the gamers. And the performances are well-done across the board, especially Wolff, who goes from being secure in his affection to questioning whether he loved a person or an idea; Delevingne, who is one of the world’s most famous supermodels as her day job, uses her beauty like armor here.

There is an inherent contradiction in “Paper Towns,” though, which is that while it cautions against mistaking individuals for concepts, it still mythologizes Margo as a character, wrapping her in an overall aura of awesomeness with few particulars to her personality. Perhaps that would be a conversation to have with teen viewers: Does “Paper Towns” end up falling into the appearances-first trap it warns against? With its likeable cast, its wonderful soundtrack and its hopeful ending, does it still simplify the teenage experience? Only parents who see “Paper Towns” and talk about it with their teens will know – and they should.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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