The Young Adult book (YA in publishing parlance) on which the film is based was a huge bestseller and an adaptation for the movies was always a foregone conclusion.
The question was could the spirit and tone of the book written by John Green be captured intact, preventing a disease of the week TV movie or even worse “Disease Porn”, wringing drama out of other peoples suffering?
To get these concerns out of the way, this is an excellent interpretation of the book. With minor trimmings aside, this is exactly what was on the page, turned into a cinematic experience.
“Hazel Grace” (Shailene Woodley) is a 17 year old feisty teenager, with wisdom beyond her years and everything to live for, apart from being terminally ill with stage 4 thyroid cancer. Her loving parents “Frannie” (Laura Dern) and “Michael” (Sam Trammell), look after her the best they can, whilst attempting to give her usual teenage freedoms, not easy when you have an oxygen tank as your constant companion.
A support group is suggested and in attempt to make her parents happy, Hazel attends meetings in the “Literal heart of Jesus” at the local church. The group is led by a guitar wielding, in remission, well intentioned young cancer sufferer, who encourages attendees to share their stories.
Hazel meets “Gus” (Ansel Elgort) a slightly older confident boy with his own health issues, the two bond and become friends, providing an inner support team within the wider group. The two trade ironic banter and wear their troubles as lightly as they can. Together with Isaac (Nat Wolff), suffering from an eye tumour cancer, they form a tight knit group.
The relationship between all the characters is believably played, the chemistry between Elgort and Woodley is palpable, both actors present a very naturalistic style that works well, the relationship with the parents is touching and rings true.
The story veers into different territory as the pair share their love of a book, “The Imperial Affliction”, written by an author now living in Amsterdam (Willem Dafoe). What might have been formulaic takes different turns, yet runs true to the book.
Director Josh Boone has managed to find the correct tone and feel of the novel, thereby sidestepping the many pitfalls the film could have befallen. There is one tonal misjudgement in the book, which the film carries over during a visit to Ann Frank’s house. It felt wrong in print and seems more disrespectful on the screen.
There is overall not much to dislike here, the film is not mawkish, deals with realities albeit lightly airbrushed, yet never manages to be depressing. Arguably heavily calibrated to it’s target audience, who made this a smash at the box office. However, you would be cold hearted indeed, if none of the story caused a moments pause to reflect on how lucky most of us are.
On a budget of $12m the film has taken over $300m, which makes a pleasant change for a film with a story, good acting, characters you care about and not one scene with robots fighting each other – spoiler alert.
Humorous, touching and well acted, this teen drama/love story has something for everyone whatever their age. What could have gone so badly wrong has managed to come up roses, or tulips in this case.
Dependant on your own life experience, a two hanky or a least a grit in the eye moment for most but ultimately uplifting and life affirming, unless your inner cynic cannot be quelled.