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.
Continue reading: The Fault In Our Stars Review