John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars succeeds almost entirely due to its perfect tonal balance. Had it become too sappy or alternately too glib, the story of love between two young beautiful cancer sufferers could have been insufferable. Instead, it was entertaining and powerful, a tear-jerker with sense of beauty and dark humor. Josh Boone’s movie adaptation doesn’t capture the same alchemy, but it wisely sticks close to the source for a successful movie. The book was always going to be better, but this movie is pretty close to about as good as it can be.
Shailene Woodley lives up to the hype she’s been getting as Hollywood’s next great young actress as Hazel Grace, a lonely 16-year-old survivor of a near death experience from lung cancer afraid of what it will mean to her family and her new boyfriend when she does eventually die. Laura Dern plays the mother and the relationship with her daughter leads to one of the two scenes in the movie that made me cry (you’re gonna wanna bring tissues). The boyfriend Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort, is funny, a little pretentious (hey, he’s a teenager, it’s appropriate), and, as the girls sitting behind me in the theater never failed to point out, “SO CUUUUUUTE!” Reading the book I didn’t imagine Peter Van Houten, the author of Hazel’s favorite book An Imperial Affliction, as Willem Defoe, but he gives a damn good performance even though I imagined the character more as a Jim Broadbent type.
The movie does tone down some aspects of the book. While the book heartbreakingly showed the painful last days of terminal illness, the movie mostly gives lip-service to the darker aspects. Some moments work better with the book’s internal monologue; the scene at the Anne Frank house, with Hazel struggling her way up numerous flights of stairs, is overall very well-done, but the somewhat controversial kiss there plays better knowing Hazel and Gus’s thought process. The book’s great and I don’t think the movie’s quite great. But it’s still really good, and considering how easily the material could go wrong, it’s amazing how that is.