Based on the beloved novel by John Green, this film is so squarely slanted toward teen girls that it is likely to annoy everyone else. Written and directed in a way that never allows even a hint of ambiguity, each scene and line of dialogue is on-the-nose, pushing the audience to a specific emotional response. This of course leaves everything feeling manipulative and false. Even so, the movie is rescued by another wonderfully layered performance from Shailene Woodley.
She plays the 17-year-old Hazel, who has been dealing with aggressive cancer for three years and has only just been stabilised by a breakthrough treatment. As she still needs to carry oxygen to breathe properly, her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) are understandably protective, but she's happy to get out on her own whenever possible. Then in a support group she meets 18-year-old cancer survivor Gus (Ansel Elgort), who is immediately smitten with her and flirts so aggressively that she finally agrees to be his friend, but nothing more. As she hangs out with Gus and his pal Isaac (Nat Wolff), another cancer patient, she begins to open up to her innermost dreams. So she goes along with a make-a-wish plan to travel to Amsterdam with Gus and her mother to meet the author (Willem Dafoe) of her favourite novel. And the trip changes her life in several unexpected ways.
Sensitive audience members will be sobbing from the beginning to the end of this film, simply because director Josh Boone tells them to. More cynical viewers will find it impossible to believe anything on-screen. This isn't because the plot is bad (it's actually quite thoughtful and provocative) or the actors get their performances wrong. It's because Boone and the screenwriters can't resist punching every note as loudly as they can. It's been so tidily shaped into a cinematic structure that everything feels fake, which makes it impossible for the actors to create characters who could exist anywhere besides in a movie.
At least Woodley finds ways to make Hazel tetchy and sparky, revealing truth behind the smiley-weepy surfaces. Dern and Trammell are also strong as her concerned but never condescending parents. Elgort has a bigger struggle, since Gus is a cinematic concoction who doesn't exist in real life (a dumb jock who happens to be soulful and erudite?). It's clear from the start that Boone didn't trust the audience to get anything on its own. Viewers who like to be pointed in emotional directions won't mind this at all, especially as the plot encompasses resonant issues of romance, respect and mortality, encouraging us to live each day to the fullest potential. But just a bit of honesty would have had the cynics sobbing too.
Run time: 126 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th June 2014
Box Office USA: $124.9M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Temple Hill Productions, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 133 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Josh Boone
Producer: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Screenwriter: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
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