Shailene Woodley, who can do no acting wrong, brings a welcome reality to The Fault in Our Stars, a perfectly serviceable teen date picture that teenage girls will have to bribe teenage boys to sit through.
Sweet, cute to the point of cutesy, it's a weeper about doomed teenagers who meet in a cancer patients support group and dare to fall in love.
Adults can be forgiven for rolling their eyes at any movie about cancer whose narrator mocks the conventions and clichés of the genre and then declares, "This is the truth," because what follows are almost always those very clichés she was ridiculing.
Hazel (Woodley, of Divergent) is 17 and totes an oxygen tank around with her, a byproduct of the experimental drug that keeps her cancer at bay, but fills her lungs with fluid from time to time.
Hazel is leery of the new guy at this Jesus-centric support group her ever-smiling/ever-positive mom (Laura Dern) makes her attend. Gus (Ansel Elgort, Woodley's Divergent brother) gives her the playboy's smile and the playboy's stare. He charms her and the group with his bubbling personality.
"I'm on a roller-coaster that only goes up!" he declares.
Hazel isn't buying it, but is won over by his wit, his bad driving, his habit of calling her by her first and middle name: "Hazel Grace."
Thus begins a chaste, but adorably sweet, romance between two people who have that one thing in common and are just old enough to know better than to let this happen. But they can't spend all of their energy worrying about their parents' worrying about them, trying to be brave for the grown-ups' sake.
One cliché of such movies is how healthy the sickly look -- up until that moment we know is coming, when they do actually look sick. Another familiar touch: Hazel forcing her favourite book on her new beau, and then communicating with the author (Willem Dafoe), who turns out to be how authors in such scenarios always are.
The cancer jokes keep it light -- "I love it when you talk medical to me."
And the stars hit it off well enough. Woodley, dazzling in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, is merely a convincing lure for Elgort, who lifts his game to hang with her, though not quite enough to make the literary locutions of Gus come out sounding natural. Dern took the role for one or two good scenes; the rest of the supporting cast makes little impression.
But this long Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) film based on a John Green novel isn't meant to be a movie for people who remember when TV had "disease of the week" weepers, it's for teenage girls and the boys they can wrangle into coming to see it with them.
Maybe they'll find the stunningly obvious plot to be surprising and fresh. Maybe they'll take stock of their young lives the same way the characters do, without the sword of cancer hanging over their heads.
And they'll learn the clichés, even as a nice, metaphoric lecture about cigarettes is tucked in between the dates, the animated text messages, the wish-fulfilment fantasy and the tragedy that may be the only "true" thing The Fault in Our Stars actually manages.
-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service