Quentin's life changed the day Margo Roth Spiegelman moved next door; he considered her his one true love. They were both close in age, they became close friends and did everything together, until one day they discovered a dead body. Apparently, the man couldn't cope with his impending divorce. Quentin didn't flinch, but Margo took it badly. She showed up one day at his window, saying she discovered that the dead man's wife worked at Sea World, and wanted to go out with him to Sea World to solve the mystery. Quentin refused to go as it was 11 pm, and they were kids, so she rode her bike there without him. Quentin comments that “Margo loved mysteries so much she became one. Her life was a series of epic adventures.”
We cut to them as teenagers. Margo (Cara Delevingne) was one of the popular kids at school who did whatever she wanted, Quentin (Nat Wolff) is not, and they aren't really friends after that night in childhood. She went as a groupie for three months with a band among other things.
One night, Margo crawls through Quentin's window and asks to borrow his car. Her parents keep their car keys in a safe under their bed every night, with a dog nearby who hates Margo (he’ll bark and wake them up). Since Quentin doesn't have a car, they use his mom's.
They head to Costco and buy lots of Saran Wrap, A raw catfish for cooking, Petroleum Jelly, spray paint, a steering wheel lock and Nair. Margo plans to exact revenge on all who have wronged her. Her boyfriend Jase (Griffin Freeman) is cheating with one of her best friends Becca (Caitlin Carver), so they first head to her house. Waiting outside, Margo sees Jase's car, and places the lock on his steering wheel as she knows he never locks the car. She then calls Becca's house and informs her dad that Becca is having sex in his basement. Her dad storms downstairs to discover the two of them in her room. Margo hands Quentin the camera before Jase runs out, and instructs Quentin to take a picture of Jase running naked across the lawn. Jase sees him but continues running. Quentin is scared, as Jase is on the football team and can beat him up, so Margo points out Jase's microscopic penis and says Jase won't beat him up if he threatens to release the photo. They both then run into Becca's room, while Becca is elsewhere, quarreling with her dad. Margo throws a fish in her closet and sprays an M on the wall.
The next house they head to is Lacey's (Halston Sage), Margo's best friend. Margo is upset because Lacey knew Jase and Becca were cheating but said nothing. Margo saran-wraps her car, and sprays an M on it.
The next house they head to is a guy who told all the girls in 6th grade not to dance with Quentin; this one is for him. She tells him to spray Nair on one of his eyebrows while she locks the door and puts Petroleum Jelly on the handle. As Quentin wipes off the nair and his eyebrow, the guy wakes up. They run out of his house, pulling the door behind them and he is unable to open it as the Jelly on the door makes it hard to unlock.
The next place they head to is a business building. Quentin is hesitant to enter as he doesn't want to be caught trespassing, he has his whole life ahead of him- Duke, Med School, kids at 30 and he looks forward to being happy. She is confused that he’ll wait til he's 30 until he's happy. She also lets him know that the guards name is Gus. They walk in, and Gus lets them in saying, “Mi casa is su casa.” He and Margo appear to know each other well (the night guard appears to be very young.) They go to a conference room over-looking the city. She point at all the buildings and calls it a “paper town with paper people”, complaining that no one seems to care about the right things. Quentin is quite smitten with her, and they dance to some music before heading back home. After parking the car, Quentin asks Margo if tomorrow things will change between then. She appears to think they will, but the next day she is absent from school.
After a few days of no Margo, an officer, Margo's parents and his parents all greet him in the dining room asking when was the last time he saw Margo. He tells them Wednesday night, but leaves out specifics, just saying that she climbed through his window to say hi. Margo's parents decline to file a report because she has run away five times before, and is now 18, free to do whatever she wants. Quentin also comments that every time she leaves, she leaves clues for her loved ones to come find her (mainly her sister.)
Quentin is deeply in love with Margo, and longs to solve the mystery. His two friends, Ben and Radar (Austin Abrams and Justice Smith) help him mourn. One day, he notices her shades are down, showing a band on the blinds, which is weird, as all these years her blinds have never been down. The three guys go to Margo's house (her parents aren't home) and bribe her sister with $20 to let them look around. Her room is filled with records. He searches the records for the band on her blinds. He finds the record he is looking for and sees and writing circled “Walt Whitman's niece.” Then he sees the Walt Whitman book on her desk and takes it home.
He spends the next few days reading the book and comes across a line circled- “Unscrew the door themselves from their jams.” He proceeds to Margo's house and again bribes her sister with $20 and uses a screwdriver to unhinge her doors to find nothing.
Later that night, still reading Walt Whitman's book, he notices a small piece of paper in his door hinge with an address written on it. He calls Radar to join him, but Radar tells him no, they can go the next day as he has plans with Angela, his girlfriend.
The next day, all three guys head to a shady part of town, going to the address, to find an abandoned building. Quentin hopes Margo is inside. They enter to see a hole in the wall leading to an abandoned store, no Margo.
The next day in school, Jase approaches Quentin with his friends and tries to beat him up, but he shows him the picture and threatens to release it, and Jase and his friends leave him alone. Lacey approaches Quentin and friends, to find out what happened to Margo, as he was with her on her last night in town. He tells Lacey they're trying to find out, but also lets her know Margo is angry that she didn't let her know about Jase and Becca's affair. Lacey claims she had no idea, but that her boyfriend knew, she really seems concerned for Margo and broke up with her boyfriend when she found out. She also lets him know that now she is without prom date and Ben immediately begins flirting with her, she says she'll be at Jase's party later. The boys seem excited and decide to attend a popular party, now that they have dirt on Jase. Quentin is obsessed with Margo's disappearance and decides not to attend.
He goes back to the abandoned room and sees Margo has written on the wall “We live in Paper Towns.” Confused, he falls asleep and sees Margo approaching him in a red dress begging him to “come find her.” Quentin is awoken when Radar calls at the party and lets him know that Ben is drunk, and that they need help to get him home. He arrives, hoping to search Jase's room for clues, but Becca and Jase are banging upstairs. He then heads to the bathroom, and mid pee is interrupted by Lacey, who is hiding in the tub. He joins her (platonically) in the tub, and they discuss life. He lets her know that he and his friends are searching for Margo. Lacey says everyone thinks she's just a pretty face, but she is actually going to Dartmouth in the fall. When Jase interrupts, Quentin knows he can now go search his room. He finds an atlas like one in the abandoned store with a page missing.
After one friend pukes in the house, they head to the abandoned building. They look through the other atlases and are startled to find that Lacey has followed them, she wants to know what happened to Margo. He finds the missing page and holds it against the light, to see that Margo has made holes in the map, pointing to where she is headed. He hangs up the map and discovers she is headed to New York, and the one friend says that there are so many towns there that they'll never find her. Quentin then instructs him to look for a Paper Town, made up towns on maps that people place to see if anyone infringes their copyright by copying their map without permission. They find one Agloe, New York.
MRS (Margo's initials) edits the Wikipedia page and gives it a population of 1. The four agree to leave immediately in order to make it back to prom, but Radar wants to stop to tell his girlfriend Angela goodbye, and she joins them. The five head on a road trip to New York, and one friend, who needs to pee half hour in, is given bottles to pee in and spills it in the car. So they make a 6 min stop to buy food, drinks, new clothes and plan out their trip stops in order to make it home in time for prom.
At night, Quentin nearly hits a cow, but Ben spins the wheel and averts is, so they skid and decide to stop for the night. Angela has sex with her boyfriend. Ben and Lacey agree to go to prom together.
They arrive in Agloe, New York the next day and find the barn, but it's empty. The rest give up and decide to head back for prom, but Quentin doesn't want to go and is angry they don't want to find her. Lacey loves Margo but says Margo would never do the same for her, Ben and Radar just did it to have one last memory and a fun road trip before they graduate. He gives them the keys and tells them he’ll find another way home.
Quentin hitch hikes to town and buys a bus ticket home, but sees Margo walk by. He runs after her and calls her name. She is surprised to see him there; she left clues for him to find to let him know she is ok, not to join her. He says he loves her, and she is surprised, saying everyone likes the idea of her, but no one really likes her. She buys him a drink and explains she wasn't made for town life, and this is the perfect place to lose, and then find herself, in solitude. She planned to disappear after graduation, but Jase, and Becca's cheating speeded it up. She relents, offering to let him join her, but he decides against it. He wants to go to Duke. They hug, and he tells her that her sister misses her. She says they talk everyday on the phone.
Quentin heads back in time to join all of his friends at prom, and the five of them dance and enjoy themselves.
The film ends with him saying that someone says they saw Margo doing a play on Broadway, another claiming to see her giving surf lessons in Malibu.
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