"Life is not a wish-granting factory, Hazel Grace." So says charming teenage cancer survivor Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) to the teenage Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley). Well, life may not be a wish-granting factory, but this film sure granted all my wishes.
Full disclosure, I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green over two days last summer and absolutely loved it. I've been one of those girls anxiously awaiting its arrival. It's a well known fact that books are often better than their adaptations. Many have seen their favorite books turned into disasters on screen. I am so happy to report that The Fault in Our Stars (or TFIOS for those in the know) doesn't suffer the same fate. In fact, this is one of the most faithful adaptations of a book I've ever seen. Sure, the dialogue is tweaked here or there, but it all stands to enhance what was already present in the book. It's clear that screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the team that brought you screenplays for 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) have a deep reverence for Green's writing, which is quick and pithy.
TFIOS centers on Hazel and Gus, two dry-witted teenagers who are "cancer kids". Hazel has terminal cancer and must carry around an oxygen tank at all times while Gus had "a touch of cancer" and now jokes about his prosthetic leg. After meeting at a cancer support group, the two fall in love and must face the challenges that come with being two kids with cancer. In the first half of the film, we watch Hazel and Augustus fall for one another, bonding over Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. Both Woodley and Elgort do a fantastic job, bottling that palpable excitement that comes from young love and making it shine onscreen. The dialogue of the film, lifted heavily from the novel, is so witty and sarcastic that you forget you're supposed to be watching a weepie.
The second half takes a darker turn, one that both Woodley and Elgort handle with ease. Augustus can be a bit overwhelming in his obvious corniness but Elgort is essentially a 6'3" golden retriever puppy that makes each line charming. The theater, full of high school-aged girls and their families, were quick to fill the theater with squeals whenever he came on screen (and particularly when he lost his shirt). Woodley's portrayal of Hazel is incredibly nuanced, translating long first-person swatches in the book to easily-read facial expressions (and voiceovers).
By the end of the film, the squeals were replaced by sniffles and sobs, as you knew it would for a film that handed out branded packs of tissue at some screenings. It realistically tackled the effects of such an illness not only on the child but on their family and friends after they're gone. Full of quotable dialogue, a heartwarming love story and a twist ending, TFIOS reminded me of the weepy movies I loved when I was a teenager like A Walk to Remember and The Notebook. Like Nicholas Sparks with a healthy dose of sarcasm, TFIOS gives the teenage girls of this generation a reprieve from dystopian films like The Hunger Games and Divergent (which also features Woodley and Elgort in its cast) and proves that there's still an audience for love stories grounded in reality.