(director: Josh Boone; screenwriters: Scott Neustadter/Michael H. Weber/based on the novel by John Green; cinematographer: Ben Richardson; editor: Robb Sullivan; music: Mike Mogis/Nathaniel Walcott; cast: Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace Lancaster), Ansel Elgort (Augustus Waters), Laura Dern (Frannie), Sam Trammell (Michael), Nat Wolff (Isaac), Willem Dafoe (Peter Van Houten), Lotte Verbeek (Lidewij), Mike Birbiglia (Patrick); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Wyck Godfrey/Marty Bowen; 20th Century Fox; 2014)

“Turned out far better than do most such tearjerkers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Though director Josh Boone(“Stuck in Love”) does a decent job with this inspirational disease survival melodrama, he missteps when he lets it go on for too long, adds unneeded contrivances, and makes it too manipulative. The result is that it becomes too genre predictable and reverts from its unsentimental dialogue to a highly emotional corny conclusion. Nevertheless, a Hollywood film about teenagers battling cancer and swept up in a doomed love affair, not my idea of entertainment, still turned out far better than do most such tearjerkers. It’s based on the bestselling novel by John Green, and is smartly written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

The story is set in an unnamed small town in Indiana, where at a support group for teenage cancer patients the sassy 16-year-old Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and the charismatic 18-year-old Gus (Ansel Elgort) meet and fall in love at first sight. Hazel has bad lungs due to a stage 4 cancer and is always with an oxygen tank, while the former high school basketball player Gus has a prosthetic leg due to cancer. Gus wants love from everyone and wants to be remembered by many when he departs, while Hazel is okay with leaving things to fate. Hazel is the more gifted in literary things than the pleasant jock, but they both display a pungent wit and make a believable love connection.

The highlight of the film, taking us away from the suffering teenagers daily highs and lows, is a Make A Wish sponsored trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favorite author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), that’s chaperoned by Hazel’s warm mom (Laura Dern). The youngsters go sightseeing in the beautiful city, take a supposedly meaningful visit to Ann Frank’s house (it shamelessly tries to tie cancer and the Holocaust together), has the virgins cutely experience first love and also has them find disappointment in meeting the alcoholic author who unbelievably acts cruel to his admiring guests.

To its credit, the film successfully combines reality with fantasy, as it elicits its main message without becoming too mushy—that finding love, even in painful circumstances, makes life more bearable. I give it a pass simply because it has a light touch, was watchable, the teen lovers gave winning performances and it avoids being maudlin by a narrow margin.

REVIEWED ON 6/7/2014 GRADE: B-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/