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It’s tough to make a film about cancer without being manipulative. It’s a naturally sad subject, so forcing it into a film can be an easy way for the audience to feel emotional. Based on the celebrated novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars deals heavily with the topic of cancer and, therefore, it can certainly be accused of being manipulative. But just because something is manipulative, doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. Director Josh Boone has crafted a truly heart wrenching film that showcases a brilliant performance from Shailene Woodley. This may not be quite as spectacular as fans of the book will claim it to be, but it is a moving picture that has grander ambitions than your typical teen romance.

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a teenage girl, who has been living with cancer for many years. She realizes that her time on this earth is limited and she seems to have come to terms with this fact. She is encouraged by her mother (an excellent Laura Dern) to reach out more and make some new friends, even going so far as to force her to attend a cancer support group. At one of these meetings, Hazel meets Augustus (Ansel Elgort) a teenage cancer survivor, who lost his leg to the disease, but not his confidence. The two of them begin a relationship together, even though death may be staring them in the face.

Let’s face it: the setup sounds pretty generic. Author John Green and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber keep everything simple, allowing the film to feel realistic and honest. The characters in this film all feel like real people; this allows us to become invested in their struggles and care about them. The simple setup also provides the writers with the opportunity to explore more mature topics than are typically associated with teen romantic fare. Death plays a large part in this film and it’s refreshing to watch these two teens talk about such a subject. Augustus doesn’t want to leave this world before he builds a legacy for himself, but Hazel is much more practical and realizes that building a life with people you love is more than enough to be content with.

Despite the overall film being well written and directed, it does occasionally feel like the filmmakers are forcing the sadness of these situations down our throats. This is supposed to be a very melancholy film, but sometimes it feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard to make the audience feel sad, instead of making a film that will naturally make them sad. Still, it’s very effective and the range of emotions that this film goes through will cause most viewers to overlook some of the more glaring problems with the film, such as the occasional genre cliché and a trip to Amsterdam that never quite gels with the rest of the movie. While in Amsterdam Hazel and Augustus visit one of their favorite authors and every scene with him feels bizarre and stereotypical. A visit to the Anne Frank House is even worse, ranging from cheesy to cringe-worthy in a matter of minutes. The real kicker is when Augustus describes the Anne Frank House as, “Awesome”. Probably not the best choice of words.

Once again proving that she is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood, Shailene Woodley is incredible as Hazel. A young girl who has already experienced so much pain and suffering in just a few short years, Woodley brings so much maturity to the role that her character’s past experiences and traumas feel absolutely believable. Still, she never loses her charm and it’s easy to see why Augustus would fall in love with her so quickly. A third act speech that Hazel delivers to Augustus is poignantly written, but it’s the emotions that Woodley brings to her performance that make it truly moving.

Unable to match the bar set by Woodley’s performance, Ansel Elgort is simply not good as Augustus. From the second we’re introduced to him, Augustus comes off as cocky, arrogant and downright unlikable. His character was clearly written to be full of himself, but Elgort brings virtually no charisma to the character. This is a major problem, because we should fall in love with this guy. His dialogue and grand romantic gestures show that he truly does care about Hazel, but Elgort’s performance says otherwise. From the moment he meets Hazel, Augustus seems bored with her, talking to her because he has nothing better to do. In order to care about their relationship, it’s a necessity that we like Augustus, but Elgort brings hardly any semblance of likability to his performance.

Even though Augustus never seems as likable as he should, the film’s final act brings such a whirlwind of emotions that it will be extremely difficult to not care about their relationship and its outcome. Josh Boone handles the beloved source material with care and the way that he mixes text messages and emails into the story feels unique and inventive. It may not reach the heights set by recent films of the same genre, such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Spectacular Now, but The Fault in Our Stars is an emotional film that should please both fans of the book and casual viewers alike. Only the most cynical of audience members will find themselves unaffected by this sincerely moving tale.

The Fault in Our Stars receives 3/4

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