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'Paper Towns' review: Appealing cast but subpar story

Cara Delevingne as Margo and Nat Wolff as

Cara Delevingne as Margo and Nat Wolff as Quentin, in a scene from "Paper Towns." Credit: AP / Michael Tackett

Nat Wolff plays an uptight high-school senior and Cara Delevingne is his free-spirited classmate in "Paper Towns," the latest film based on a young-adult novel by John Green. Like the last one, "The Fault in Our Stars," this one is a collection of pretty moments and yearning pop songs rather than a fully convincing story. How well it works for you may depend on how close in age you are to its characters.

Quentin Jacobson (Wolff) has been pining for Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne) since she moved into his Orlando subdivision when they were children. While Quentin focuses on school and his future, Margo becomes a charismatic kook (but a popular one) who collects vinyl and reads Walt Whitman. One night she breaks into his bedroom promising a series of wild adventures.

Turns out she's mostly interested in pranking her cheating ex-boyfriend, but Quentin mistakes this for the start of a romance. No such luck. Margo promptly vanishes, leaving a trail of clues -- poetry quotes, graffiti, old maps. (She's like a less violent "Gone Girl.") Joining Quentin on his quest for Margo are his nerdy friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), who will experience romances of their own. Along the way, at least a few questions are raised about Margo's manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior.

The film critic Nathan Rabin coined a term for characters like Margo -- the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's the eccentric, vivacious female who teaches our male hero how to embrace life, yet lacks any depth of her own. (Think Natalie Portman in "Garden State" or, going back further, Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's.") To Green's credit, he tries to give Margo a hint of real-world darkness, but she remains a trope. It isn't entirely Delevingne's fault that Margo never adds up to much more than a cocked eyebrow and a knowing smile.

Directed by Jake Schreier, "Paper Towns" has its low-key charms, most provided by the appealing young cast. Wolff, whose big, round eyes have a searching intelligence, is particularly good. He makes Quentin seem so bright and likable that you might find yourself hoping Margo never shows up.

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