Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a depressed 16-year-old suffering from thyroid cancer, who must wear tubes in her nose and lug around an oxygen tank. When her mum (Laura Dern) forces her to attend a cancer support group, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a charming 18-year-old who’s lost one of his legs to cancer, but succeeds in sweeping her off her feet.
Based on the bestselling novel by John Green, the film works because Woodley and Elgort talk and act like real teens, infusing the film with an authenticity that often negates the mush factor. Smart, caustic, funny, love-struck, sometimes bitter, the protagonists play it consistently real, seldom encouraging feelings of pity on the part of the viewer. There’s broad humor in the scenes with Issac (Nat Wolff), a friend of Gus, who’s lost his vision to cancer, but is more upset about being dumped by his selfish girlfriend.
It’s in the last act that director Josh Boone lays it on thick, giving us scenes that’ll make you cringe. While visiting the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam while on a trip to meet with an author whose book has deeply affected them (a terrific Willem Dafoe), Hazel and Gus share a shrewdly-timed kiss in a scene that has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. More sniffling follows in later portions, but the affecting performances of Elgort and particularly Woodley save the film from completely drowning in cheese.
I’m going with three out of five for The Fault in Our Stars. Take along some tissues and prepare to be manipulated.