‘The Fault in Our Stars:’ Pain never felt this good

3 out of 4 stars

Hazel Grace Lancaster stares into the eyes of the boy who desperately wants to become more than just her friend, and summarizes her cancer fight in two sentences.

Even cancer can't stop Hazel Grace and Gus from falling in love. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)
Even cancer can’t stop Hazel Grace and Gus from falling in love. (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

“Gus, I’m a grenade,” she says, sitting next to him on the swing set in her backyard.One day, I’m going to explode and obliterate everything in my wake and I don’t know, I just feel it’s my responsibility to minimize the casualties.”

“The Fault in Our Stars” isn’t a teen romance. It’s a story about cancer – living with it, joking about it, hoping to survive it and yes, dying with it. It’s a film based on John Green’s bestselling novel, with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort bringing star-crossed lovers Hazel Grace and Gus Waters to life as their cancer-stricken bodies bring them come closer to death.

You’re Hazel. You’re 16 and your lungs are so weak you have to breathe from a tube connected to an oxygen tank you have to wheel around like a piece of carry-on luggage. You’re dying. What would you do? You’re Gus. You’re 17 and after a tumor takes your right leg, a horde of them returns to take the rest of you. You’re dying. What do you do?

You live. You fight. You love. And you cry – taking the audience on tearful journey in which no matter what happens, Hazel and Gus’ hourglasses are running out of sand.

If you thought Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley were good in "Divergent," then you'll love them in "The Fault of Our Stars." (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)
If you thought Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley were good in “Divergent,” then you’ll love them in “The Fault in Our Stars.” (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

But Hazel and Gus aren’t martyrs. They embrace their bleak outlooks, cherishing every minute they have – together. It’s a relationship that progresses slowly. Hazel, who’s so sick she struggles to walk up a flight of steps, initially refuses to become anything more than friends with Gus because she doesn’t want to hurt him. Gus, however, sees a fun, beautiful girl who just so happens to have stage 4 cancer.

Their romance blossoms as their cancer grows, causing the audience to cheer for them. You know the movie isn’t going to have some uplifting ending where some miracle cure is discovered or Gus shows up with a boombox blasting “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel and they live happily ever after.

No, what you get is Gus using his Make-A-Wish-style request to take Hazel to Amsterdam so they can meet her favorite author, who turns out to be a rude, recluse, alcoholic played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe.

What you get is a scene in Anne Frank’s attic that delivers what may go down as the kiss of the year and a scene in a hotel room where you’ve never been so pumped to see two teenagers hook up.

It’s a tearjerker, but one that ultimately centers on life, even one that involves so much suffering, as Hazel says “pain demands to be felt.”

It’s not surprising Woodley and Elgort have seamless chemistry. Earlier this year, they starred as Tris and Caleb in the hit “Divergent,” another film based on a bestselling book, and will play the same characters in the “Insurgent,” the sequel to “Divergent” due out next year.

But they shine brightest in “The Fault of Our Stars,” which should be watched with one requirement.

Bring tissues.