Movie review: 'The Fault in Our Stars' an endearing love story

Laura Dern’s character speaks for the audience when she says to her daughter, Hazel Grace Lancaster, and friend Augustus Waters: “You two are so adorable.”

Yes, they are.

In “The Fault in Our Stars,” Hazel (Shailene Woodley) confesses that when it comes to Gus (Ansel Elgort), “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly and then all at once.”

'The Fault in Our Stars'

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort.

Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.

The audience, on the other hand, seems smitten instantly with Gus. At a preview this week, you could sense the palpable reaction (a seated swoon) among teenage girls, especially when Gus smiled slyly or winked or went on a charm offensive or suggested that “Okay” would be his and Hazel’s version of a favorite term of endearment.

Anyone who has seen “The Descendants” or “The Spectacular Now” or “Divergent” knows what an accomplished actress Ms. Woodley is. No one produces tears like she does, whether she’s crying underwater at news delivered by dad George Clooney in “The Descendants” or heaving with sobs here in a way that seems to defy acting.

Two and a half years after John Green’s novel of the same name was published, the movie arrives in theaters riding a wave of anticipation, elation and fervent hope that no one would ruin the cherished book.

And no one has, as director Josh Boone proves with this respectful adaptation that shears off a few minor scenes and characters but retains the spirit and some of the word-for-word dialogue of the book although Hazel’s line above is relocated within the story without any problem.

“TFIOS” is about two teens with cancer -- she had thyroid cancer that damaged her lungs, and bone cancer cost him his lower right leg. As one laments, “The world is not a wish-granting factory.” But Hazel and Gus are not maudlin or wallowing in self-pity or saintly; they’re smart and observant and lead rich, full lives invested with meaning thanks to love.

They live in Indianapolis, portrayed on screen by Pittsburgh, which even doubles for a bit of Amsterdam, where their favorite author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), lives. A trip there doesn’t go as planned in ways blissful and bitingly disappointing, and it provides the use of the movie’s single, crisply delivered f-word.

“TFIOS” is a love story but one in which disability and premature death hover on the fringes or bluster into the core of the story.

Hazel, after all, has a cannula tucked into her nose for virtually the entire movie and has to lug or wheel the attached oxygen tank everywhere she goes. Gus shows the artificial leg that’s otherwise hidden beneath his jeans, and friend Isaac (Nat Wolff, providing some darkly comic relief) is rarely without sunglasses as cancer is stealing his eyesight. The center of Amsterdam also is home to the Anne Frank House, celebrating a girl who died at age 15 after being forced into hiding during World War II, discovered and deported to a concentration camp.

READ the Family Film Guide on “The Fault in Our Stars.”

“TFIOS,” which boasts a mood-setting pop and indie rock soundtrack led by Ed Sheeran, takes its title from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” when one nobleman says to another, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

The novelist objects to that notion, suggesting that there is plenty of fault in our stars and people suffer because they are unlucky. Sometimes that means diagnosis of a disease and at other times, it means falling on the wrong side of the recovery equation. Bring tissues.

The beauty of “TFIOS,” which pairs Ms. Dern with Sam Trammell as Hazel’s parents and casts Pittsburgher David Whalen as Gus’ dad, is that the movie works on several levels. Its theme of water, for instance, resonates, from Gus’ last name to the 65 miles of canals meandering through Amsterdam and even the fluid that can fill Hazel’s lungs. Stars are referenced in various ways, too.

None of the symbolism or literary references would matter if Ms. Woodley and Mr. Elgort weren’t a compatible, compelling couple. If the movie doesn’t succeed (and it likely will open to robust numbers) it won’t be the fault of these stars.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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