IF EVERY TEEN MOVIE ever made was thrown into a blender and pulverized into a thick white paste, and then that paste was reconstituted back into a movie, that movie would be Paper Towns. Its blandness is overwhelming, soporific, almost soothing—it is Every Teen Movie. And its attempts to subvert the predictable clichés and tropes of the genre serve only to spotlight them.
Quentin (Nat Wolff) is every dorky-yet-cute protagonist. Best friend #1, Radar (Justice Smith), is every black sidekick; Best Friend #2, Ben (Austin Abrams), is every inappropriate horndog who just wants a date to prom. And Margo (Cara Delevingne) is every quirky, free-spirited love interest. You've heard this one before: For years, nerdy Quentin has lusted after cool-girl Margo. When she mysteriously disappears, leaving a trail of clues in her wake, he throws everything he's got into tracking her down.
The novel on which the film is based, by YA juggernaut John Green, pulls off a really neat trick: Disguised as a rompy high school road-trip romance, it's actually about a boy slowly realizing that the kooky, exciting girl next door (is there a name for this archetype?) does not exist solely to make his life more magical. It's about realizing that the person you idealize is just a person, and that you've imagined them into something they aren't. The novel, in other words, comments on the very tropes that the movie walks right into. The intelligence that animates the book is flattened here into... well, a rompy high school road-trip romance, and the only theme that bothers to lift its head from this muck is something about how sometimes people aren't what you think they are. Paper Towns is the statistical mean of its genre, unoriginal and underwhelming.