The Fault in Our Stars is carefully constructed to tear plaintively at your heartstrings. It works best not as a weepy, but as a gentle evocation of romance through the subjective perspective of teenage protagonist, Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley). Hazel has cancer, yes, and the story is in many ways about that. It’s also about how life as a teenager is so big and important and overwhelming; whether or not you have a terminal illness, it’s not hard to relate to how our teenage years seem like they’re the most important years we’ll ever have.
When navigating through Hazel’s somewhat-idealised romance with Augustus (Ansel Elgort), Josh Boone’s light touch keeps the film delightfully engaging. Meanwhile, the teenage perspective is coloured with some darker shades around the margins (via Hazel’s mother (Laura Dern) and an irascible author (Willem Dafoe)). It’s only when TFIOS lays on the emotional melodrama in the last act that it stumbles, breaking out big emotional music while pulling too many punches. We’re told that dying of cancer isn’t pretty, but that’s not evidenced on the screen. The saddest thing about the ending is that it feels unearned, suggesting a greater film that we didn’t get to see.