It’s not your typical summer action popcorn flick, but “The Fault in Our Stars” is a heartbreaking blockbuster to the tune of a million sobs.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve read John Green’s tearjerker of a young-adult best-seller, written with the kind of bittersweet brilliance that makes “Catcher in the Rye” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” timeless.
Your movie theater will ring with snotty gasps as Shailene Woodley brings 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster to life in all of her snarky and soulful glory.
We fans know Hazel’s story. She has incurable thyroid cancer. She has tubes in her nose, lugs around a portable oxygen tank backpack and falls for Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) when they meet at support group. He’s a cancer survivor with a prosthetic leg and over-the-top charm. He makes fun of Hazel for using her dying wish on Disney World and then uses his to take her to meet her dream author in Amsterdam. Yes, there’s a fairy tale aspect to it, albeit a dark fairy tale.
Rising director Josh Boone (“Stuck in Love”) didn’t toy with our cherished characters on screen. His team stays true to the book. The dialogue is as punchy and poetic as it should be, with lines like “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
The effect isn’t the same fantastical frenzy generated by other young adult favorites. This isn’t the magical Harry Potter. There is no Team Edward or Team Jacob love triangle. It’s not a dystopia waiting for a heroine to save the day a la Katniss in “The Hunger Games.”
The vibe is more of a sweet melancholy, and not because it’s the kids-with-cancer tale, either. This is the most universal story you can tell, a love story. We all know what it’s like to be young and to feel love for the very first time.
Yes, you will be emotionally manipulated. It builds you up to break you down. But you will love it. As the characters like to say, “pain demands to be felt,” but it’s not all tears and sad love songs. Nat Wolff brings some comic relief as Isaac, Gus’ trophy-smashing best friend going through a terrible break-up while coping with blindness. And Willem Dafoe’s wickedly cranky author, Peter Van Houten, is perfect.
The entire cast draws you in, but it’s Woodley who rises above all others. Since her breakout role as the resentful daughter in 2011’s critically acclaimed “The Descendants,” she earned a legion of fans as Tris in this spring’s dystopian thriller, “Divergent.” But here, her ability to make herself tiny and big all at once shows her true star power.
Last we saw Elgort he was playing Tris’ calculating brother in “Divergent.” But we can easily forget all about that. Elgort’s smile is rom-com gold. It lightens up the heaviness of the hard scenes between Gus and Hazel and lands him in the land of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.
You don’t love this movie because it makes you cry. You don’t love Hazel and Gus because you feel sorry for them. They are not weak. They are not pitiful. They are gutsy, cynical and fun. And they’re scared, but not in the way you think. They long to make an impact, to seize the day, to leave their mark, to be loved and have courage.
You see them for the people they are because you see the broken pieces of yourself in them.
‘THE FAULT IN OUR STARS’
Rated PG-13 | Time: 2:06