This adaptation of John Green’s bestselling 2012 young adult novel about a teenage girl in love and living with cancer is far from the shameless emotional pummelling it might have been. It finds its own understated way to earn tears, and that’s a tricky thing to pull off given the material.
The film’s linchpin is actress Shailene Woodley (already the saviour of several iffy films, including ‘Divergent’). Her effortless regular-girl charm turns oxygen-tank-carrying Hazel into a fully fleshed-out teenager. Even as Hazel meets and falls for upbeat charmer Gus (Ansel Elgort, Woodley’s ‘Divergent’ co-star) in a kids cancer support group, there’s believable banter between them that redeems a long foreseen outcome, known to anyone who’s ever waded into the salty pool of movies like ‘Love Story’.
The lion’s share of the credit should go to 35-year-old director Josh Boone (‘Stuck in Love’). He puts his texting, vulnerable lovers front and centre, and even manages to coach Laura Dern, playing Hazel’s mother, away from her familiar smeary cry-face. But the original story, faithfully honoured here, is bolder than its set-up implies: their shared love of a novel about a child with cancer leads the ailing couple from Indianapolis in the US to Amsterdam to meet the book’s reclusive author (Willem Dafoe). It’s a welcome interlude where the reality of suffering is expanded to include bitterness, cynicism and even a political dimension when the lovers visit Anne Frank’s house. Though supported by Woodley’s subtle narration, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ relentlessly wears its heart on its sleeve. That’s part of the book’s inspiring touch. Even if some of the supporting cast come off as merely functional, the core of the tragedy comes to life in a moving and devastating way.