In life, it's cancer's job to try to kill you. In fiction, it's cancer's job to make you cry. In John Green's ferociously popular young-adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, cancer does its job like a pro. Without being too maudlin or sticky, it effectively opens up the cathartic flow.
You'd hope that 35-year-old director Josh Boone's film adaptation, which hews close to the book, should do the same. But something gets stuck in the pipeline: The Fault in Our Stars doesn't quite capture the discreetly twisted humor, or the muted anger, of Green's book, and its problems can be attributed to a constellation of little annoyances rather than any one serious, North Star–size flaw.
Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 17-year-old whose lungs have betrayed her -- as she puts it, they suck at being lungs. Her illness will kill her sooner than later. Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) is a philosophical ex-basketball player with a tendency toward grandiose pronouncements. She's cautious about letting their attraction blossom into a love affair; she doesn't want to leave Augustus with a hole in his heart when she's gone. Her resolve doesn't last, and it shouldn't, leading to a highly dubious first kiss way upstairs at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Where else?
Woodley is an appealing actress, though she needs to be reeled back in her big, dramatic moments, when her voice hits the high, nut-busting notes of a hectoring chipmunk. Elgort can't navigate his soliloquies without sounding annoying and pompous. But there are certain aspects of this half-dreamy, half-earthbound romance that Boone gets just right, and sometimes a good cry is just what the doctor ordered.