'The Fault in Our Stars' review: A tearjerker that's genuinely moving

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars. (Courtesy)

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars. (Courtesy)

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:47 PM ET

Beats there a heart so cold, it’s impervious to a romance between teens stricken with cancer, facing their likely death sentences with laugh-out-loud dark humour and clear-eyed thoughts of mortality?

You bet there is. A minority of critics have already posted their too-cool-for-this dismissal of The Fault In Our Stars, a movie that would dare push their emotional buttons, and God forbid, bring a tear to their eye.

But from the ingredients alone, it’s easy to see why the source material – the young-adult novel by John Green – was a bestseller.

Cancer is not an easy sell. But the notion of young people going through experiences – both love and death – that patronizing adults can’t fathom is. Every teen trauma is the end of the world, but in The Fault In Our Stars, it literally is. (Even Shakespeare knew that young love plus death equals boffo box office).

The tone is set in the opening scene, when odds-beater Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who should have been dead three years earlier from a thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs, is diagnosed with depression, “a common side effect” of cancer. “Depression is not a side effect of cancer,” Hazel intones in narration, “it’s a side effect of dying.”

Nonetheless, Hazel clearly does need some cheering up. And the spirit-lifter turns out to be Augustus (Ansel Elgort), an aggressively charming member of a youth cancer support group (caricaturistically portrayed as a cheesy experience run by a Born Again who makes up impromptu songs about Jesus).

Where Hazel believes only in oblivion, Gus believes in… something, most assuredly the notion that he’ll get the chance to be remembered, despite having lost a leg (and his athleticism) to cancer. His texts are hilarious, his spirit indomitable, his smile semi-permanent, his driving terrible to a slapstick degree.

Apart from their natural attraction to each other, Hazel and Gus have An Imperial Affliction, a novel about young people with cancer (by an author, Peter Van Houten, who we eventually discover is played by Willem Dafoe). This meta plot-twist is the springboard for the movie’s journey to Amsterdam, and some unexpected turns (plus a trip to the Anne Frank museum, which may seem heavy-handed metaphorically, but I’m a sucker for bathos).

Hazel and Gus are clearly, in the words of Hazel’s mom (Laura Dern) “a cute couple.” And they’re complemented nicely by Isaac (Nat Woolf), Gus’s wiseacre best friend who’s already lost an eye to cancer and is about to lose the second (with his relationship with his girlfriend in the balance). Like Hazel, he’s the master of deflective sarcasm, but even harder-edged.

To some extent, Woodley’s Hazel seems to suffer from what Mad Magazine referred to in Love Story as “Old Movie Disease” – i.e. she seems to become more beautiful as death ostensibly approaches, the oxygen hose in her nose notwithstanding.

But it seems only appropriate. If Gen Y still has a heart (and the existence of emo music suggests it does), then The Fault In Our Stars could indeed become this generation’s Love Story – mildly implausible, but genuinely moving.

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