The Fault in Our Stars goes big the right way

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Starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Rated PG. Now playing

Remember Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal in Love Story? Well, in many ways, the move version of John Green’s critically acclaimed young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars is Love Story for the Instagram generation, the kind of bittersweet tearjerker that young women insist on seeing in bunches. Because boyfriends would just find a way to ruin everything.

Back in the politically incorrect Seventies, you could have called The Fault in Our Stars a chick flick. Of course, times have changed. Director Josh Boone loads the story with plenty of texting and ironic T-shirts, not to mention the kind of self-aware teens who seem far worldlier than their baffled parents. There’s also some first-rate acting, thanks largely to co-stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as two young cancer survivors who meet at a therapy session and fall in love.

Woodley plays Hazel, a young woman with terminal cancer whose living on borrowed time thanks to the benefits of an experimental drug. She’s skittish about forming attachments. But she’s instantly intrigued by the smooth-talking Gus (Elgort), a confident, funny guy who seems completely unaffected by losing a leg to cancer.

Both of them have learned that time is precious. So Hazel and Gus decide to travel to Amsterdam to visit Hazel’s favourite writer, a famous recluse who seems to hold the secret to life. (Willem Dafoe, making the most of a thankless role.) Complications ensue. But nothing that gets in the way of what the story’s really about.

It’s fun to watch Woodley and Elgort handle so many different acting challenges with such unwavering conviction. The script offers many opportunities for emotional excess. But, like any juicy melodrama, there’s always a right way to go big. Our two leads walk that line with genuine skill.

Of course, this is the kind of movie that’s virtually critic-proof. The screening I attended was packed with fans of the book who knew exactly what they wanted from the screen version. After it ended, one of them said to her girlfriend, “Did you cry? Because I really cried.” What more could you ask?

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