If you've read John Green's novel you'll know that this drama about the romance between two cancer-stricken teenagers is no picnic -- and neither is this lengthy film.
Predictably, director Josh Boone's adaptation makes the most of the sad and devastating moments in the story, but he also manages to capture the humour and honesty that makes the novel so striking.
The Fault in Our Stars has a 16-year-old protagonist but, like The Book Thief, its appeal is much broader than the label of young-adult novel. It speaks to a younger audience, such as the two young women who giggled next to me during the romantic moments, but the themes of life, love and loss are for everyone.
Shailene Woodley is perfectly cast as spunky Hazel, who has stage-four thyroid cancer and is living on borrowed time thanks to an experimental drug that has shrunk her tumours and prolonged her life.
She's an articulate, observant and acerbic narrator who is both heartbreaking and heartwarming as she attempts to debunk the myths of living and dying with cancer.
With an oxygen bottle trailing behind her, Shailene spends her time at home studying, sleeping and watching crap television with her mother (Dern), until she meets the optimistic and charismatic Gus (Elgort), a cancer survivor at a local support group. Their friendship develops into a romance, and Hazel's obsession with a novel sends them on a life-changing trip to the Netherlands. It's good seeing Hazel living more like a teenager, although we could do without the inappropriate make-out session in Anne Frank's attic.
Cancer is obviously at the centre of this story but this is more a story about living and finding meaning in your own life, for Hazel and Gus and for the family and friends around them.
Boone's conservative visual approach and the subject matter makes for a shamelessly soppy film at times -- even if you know what's coming you'll need a decent supply of tissues. And yet there's a good dose of humour, from comedian Mike Birbiglia's church-run support group to the time when Gus and Hazel help their recently blinded friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) egg his former girlfriend's house.
But nothing beats the performances by Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern -- probably the two best reasons to see this film.
Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern
M (offensive language)