'The Fault in Our Stars' tries to be both dreamy and hard-hitting

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Fault' star Shailene Woodley delivers an ardent, nuanced performance. 

James Bridges/20th Century Fox/AP
'The Fault in Our Stars' stars Shailene Woodley (r.) and Ansel Elgort (l.).

I recently overheard two teenage girls chatting up the movie version of “The Fault in Our Stars” after viewing its trailer. “I’m going to cry,” said one, looking very happy. “Me, too,” said her friend, looking even happier.

For those friends, and millions more, I’m sure, the movie will no doubt be a cryfest for the ages. John Green’s 2012 young adult mega-bestseller about two teens from a cancer support group, was, in effect, already a movie. (It cried out to be filmed.) Now that it’s on the big screen, translated fairly intact, are there enough handkerchiefs in the world to staunch the flow?

To their credit, director Josh Boone and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber don’t pile on the mush. The film is highly manipulative, all right, but in ways that allow the audience a modicum of self-respect. The sniffling legions at the screening I attended needn’t have felt like fools.

I might have joined them if I did not sense that, on some level, all this anguish was intended to be therapeutic. “The Fault in Our Stars” is the ultimate feel-good movie about feeling bad. And within those limits, it succeeds all too well. There’s even a long sequence in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which fills out the woe to mythic proportions. 

As Hazel Grace Lancaster, who spends practically her entire time hooked up to an oxygen tank, Shailene Woodley gives an ardent, nuanced performance. As her (eventual) boyfriend Augustus, a high school basketball star whose leg has been amputated, Ansel Elgort has been encouraged to act so charmingly that you just know (even if you haven’t already read the book) that bad times are nigh.

Augustus is a Galahad dreamboat – every teen girl’s fantasy boyfriend. He’s worth being afflicted for. If he had been less of a fantasy, the movie might have been grittier and even sadder, but clearly that’s not the vibe the filmmakers were going for. They want credit for being hard-hitting, and they are. But they also have stars in their eyes. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.)

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