"It's not my fault that my parents own the world's largest collection of black Santas."
Margo Roth Spiegelman is the coolest girl on the block. Her popularity is never truly explained, but probably boils down to her eyebrows, and her leather coat, and the way she makes boys feel. Margo and Quentin "Q" Jacobsen bond over bike rides, clandestine meetings, and the discovery of a dead lawyer. They eventually grow up and grow apart as people do, but Q's feelings for Margo remain the same. You know, because of those eyebrows.
Q (who narrates the story) tells us that Margo's existence is a mystery. By senior year of high school she's run away from home four previous times for varying periods. She languishes over the lack of perplexity in her life, but she just sounds bored. One night, after barely speaking for nine-years, Margo climbs into the upstairs bedroom of Q and guilts him into embarking on a plot of revenge against those that have wronged her. Mostly she just needs a ride.
At first, Margo's irresponsibility is infectious. Her and Q playfully wreak havoc on her unsuspecting victims, tossing a slimy catfish into a closet, spray-painting the letter "M" everywhere, and plastic wrapping a car. They cap their night by sweet talking their way into an office building to look over the cityscape and reflect on their juvenile mayhem. It's clear this night means more to Q than his longtime infatuation. For Margo, this is another night in a long list of frivolity and misdemeanors. At one point during their escapade, Q says that he can feel his heart beating in his chest. "This is how you should feel your whole life," is Margo's reply. Margo is a cardiologist's worst nightmare.
The conversation shifts to how the world is filled with "paper towns" and "paper people." Margo laments on how boring and carbon copy the world and its inhabitants are, and that conformity is bad, but her only answer to combat the norm is to commit petty vandalism, and skip out on the people that care the most about her. Still, to Q, this is the best night of his life, and I get it. The attention that he's longed for is finally here. He goes to sleep that night with illusions of a future with Margo, but soon snaps back to reality when she fails to show up to class the following day, or the one after, and he realizes that she has taken flight once more.
Once Margo is out of the picture, the film shifts tonally and allows Q's friends Radar and Ben more room to breathe, and the film is all the better for it. The real chemistry of the film lies in the camaraderie these three share. Their conversations are terrific and authentic. They talk about fears, and girls, and play video games, and joke about sleeping with each other's moms. During their operation to locate Margo, they end up at a dilapidated souvenir shop. They hear a noise and get spooked, and one of them offers that if they sing a song, that will make them feel better. So they do it! And it's hysterical! It's so damn goofy, but the genuineness shines through.
Lacey, a friend of Margo's, and Angela, Radar's girlfriend, later join the troupe. They all commence on an absurdly reaching scavenger hunt to track down Margo, involving Walt Whitman works, and a pushpinned map. A lot of assumptions are made, and miraculous clues are found out of thin air. But, that's okay. The impromptu road trip that follows is the highlight of TOWNS. It was fun to be a passenger alongside them.
Q and Margo are played by Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. Wolff leads the film confidently. He has a few nice moments, mostly shared with his friends. Delevingne is serviceable, but any number of attractive people could have afforded the same necessary emotion. The supporting cast offers the most. Lacey (Halston Sage), Ben (Austin Abrams), and Radar (Justice Smith) at times battle conventional character devices--Lacey is the beautiful (and smart!) girl that gets no respect; Ben is the immature (and thoughtful!) best friend that's misunderstood, etc.--but they represent the people that Q should want to hang out with, instead of chasing a fetching pipe dream.
Q's early narration remarks that every single person is granted a miracle in their life. His was when Margo moved into the house across from him. He's a guy that will seemingly do anything for a girl he thinks he loves yet hardly even knows. It's a familiar story that seems better suited for the late 90's. CAN'T HARDLY WAIT comes to mind, but at least Jennifer Love Hewitt was friendly! Margo scoffs at Q's life goals, normal things like going to college, and starting a family. Her words are delivered like poetry, all wistful and seductive, yet her actions betray her, and she becomes the very construct she seeks to disassociate herself from. She's a pretty terrible human being. Margo's intentions are noble, I suppose, but her antics wear as thin as the material in the film's title. Everyone will be a lot happier without Margo Roth Spiegelman around.