Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Nat Wolff
The excitement in the theatre was palpable. Young adults, the target readership of John Greene's very successful novel by the same name, hardly needed any reviews to watch its movie adaptation. They knew it by heart (at least two girls sitting behind me did), oohed and aahed at the right places and going by the very loud sniffles in the theatre, also shed more than a few tears.
But what about those who have but a sketchy acquaintance with Green's book? They will get a bang with their buck as well. And even though this is a film about two youngsters who meet in a cancer support group, they will go home smiling. It is just that kind of a film -- its warmth infectious, its humour unassuming.
Now, a stab at the story – Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) establishes two things right in the beginning of the film when she describes herself as "Keith Richards of cancer kids" – a, she's unusually witty and b, she is terminally ill.
On her parents' insistence (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell), she starts going to a cancer support group where she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) who has lost one leg to cancer but is now cancer-free.
Gus is into metaphors and Hazel's obsession in life is An Imperial Affliction, a realistic take on cancer which ends midway when the book's heroine presumably dies of the disease. Gus goes around with an unlit cigarette in mouth to show cancer that he refuses to give in while Hazel believes that she is one of evolution's "side effects".
Love takes over and Gus finds out that Hazel's obsession in life is to meet Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author of The Imperial Affliction, a book about cancer. Gus uses his wish with Genies, a take on Make-a-Wish Foundation, to realise this wish and visit Amsterdam where Van Houten lives as a recluse. The author turns out to be, as described by Hazel, "douchepants" but romance makes up for the disappointment.
So, why should you watch the film? For Shailene Woodley and the amazing chemistry she shares with both Elgort and Dern. Woodley brings a certain je ne sais quoi to her performance. Her range of expressions is endless and she fully inhabits Hazel's character. She reminds you of a younger Kate Winslet or the talented Jennifer Lawrence. Definitely a talent to watch out for.
Elgort and Woodley effortlessly deliver perhaps some of the most flowery dialogues we have heard recently (a particular speech about oblivion) and make them believable.
Dern as Hazel's mother also gives a great performance -- the way her face crumples in grief or mischievously lights up when she sees Hazel and Gus together.
Director Joosh Boone ensures that he stays away from most of cancer's clichés. While the
does get manipulative in places and is practically begging you to bubble, mostly it is infused with warmth, humour and acerbic comments. Scriptwriters do a commendable job in keeping the film funny and engaging and ensuring that the pathos don't overpower us.
Even then, carry your kerchiefs. But rest assured, you will come out of the theatre smiling.