"The Fault In Our Stars" is emotionally manipulative and utterly shameless but it's so well done, it's hard to fault it too much.
It's a tearjerker that isn't content to just make you cry; it's determined to wrench every last tear out of those ducts of yours.
How does it do that? Let me count the ways.
First off, the subject matter - kids with cancer. You don't get much sadder than that, right? Well, throw in a love story. That's right, teenagers falling in love while they're dying of cancer. Are you a puddle yet? Now make those lovesick teens witty, charming, and preternaturally composed in the face of life's worst adversities. Sounds revoltingly cloying, doesn't it? What saves "The Fault in Our Stars" from that fate is its remarkable young star, Shailene Woodley, who effortlessly transcends the potentially syrupy material.
Woodley burst on to the scene a few years ago as the conflicted daughter of a comatose woman in the George Clooney movie, "The Descendants," and most recently starred as an action hero in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster "Divergent."
Showing off her range, Woodley gets to play a very different kind of character in "The Fault in Our Stars." Hazel Grace Lancaster is brave, yes, but she's also vulnerable, smart, insecure, earnest, wary, funny, cocky and scared.
Despite the fact that many of the situations she finds herself in seem a bit contrived, Woodley plays the role with such conviction that she's entirely believable. Even though she has to pull along an oxygen tank and breathe through plastic tubes in her nose throughout the entire movie, she does it so naturally that after the first ten minutes, you don't even notice.
While Woodley's character, Hazel, feels like a real person, her boyfriend Augustus, played by Ansel Elgort, doesn't come off half as well. He's charming all right, but he feels more like a foil to Hazel than a person in his own right.
He has some of the best lines in the film, but he also has to do a lot of the heavy lifting thematically, so he often comes off as just too good to be true, or convincing.
"The Fault in Our Stars" is based on a smash hit young adult novel of the same name and by all accounts, it's a faithful adaptation. The author John Green says the novel is in fact loosely based on a 16-year-old girl he knew who had cancer.
The plotting is a little creaky but the dialogue-heavy script is so sharp, fast-paced and witty that when the big issues of life and love and death inevitably come up, they are handled quite deftly, with seriousness and precision. Life lessons are indeed on this film's agenda but thankfully the sermonizing is kept to a minimum.
At one point in the movie, Augustus proclaims, "It's a good life, Hazel Grace. Okay?" And okay, it's a good movie too. (Sniffle.)