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The Fault in Our Stars’ Sets Out to Make You Cry



 
“The world is not a wish-granting factory.” That line, from “The Fault in Our Stars,” is undoubtedly true, and it is also true that the movie, like the book before it, is an expertly built machine for the mass production of tears. Directed by Josh Boone (“Stuck in Love”) with scrupulous respect for John Green’s best-selling young-adult novel, the film sets out to make you weep — not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy. It succeeds.
But then again, a brief survey of the story and its themes might make you wonder how it could possibly fail. The main character — whose voice-over narration, drawn verbatim from Mr. Green’s pages, frames the story — is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager who has lived most of her life with the metastatic thyroid cancer she expects will end it very soon. She falls in love with Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), known as Gus, a fellow “cancer kid” who has lost part of his leg to the disease but who has been healthy since then and is determined to lead “an extraordinary life.”

 

But what can you say about a girl who ... ? The question is not meant to be a spoiler, but rather a point of reference. A long time ago, a movie called “Love Story,” also based on a best seller with terminal illness in its plot, swept through the popular culture and landed its female lead on the cover of Time. The film was potent and memorable without being all that good. And yet it is still possible, all these years later, to laugh at the stilted dialogue and awkwardly staged scenes and find yourself wet-eyed and raspy-voiced at the end.
However it might look in 40 years, “The Fault in Our Stars” seems at first glance like a much better picture, thanks to Ms. Woodley’s discipline and to a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber that takes an unhurried, amiable approach to the story. Their earlier screenplays, “500 Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now” (also starring Ms. Woodley), were offbeat variations on sturdy romantic-comedy themes, and here they smartly emphasize the dry, idiosyncratic notes in Mr. Green’s sometimes pushy prose.


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