Humour lightens gloom

Humour lightens gloom
The fault in our stars starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort


119 minutes/Opens tomorrow

The story: Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is depressed from battling thyroid cancer. But when the 17-year-old meets the sunny Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), 18, at a support group, things start looking up. Gus' osteosarcoma is in remission but he had to have his leg amputated. They bond over being ill and also over a novel, An Imperial Affliction. And then bad news strikes. Based on the best-selling 2012 novel of the same name by John Green.

Star-crossed lovers have been thwarted by everything from disapproving families to cruel twists of fate. If they get together, it is a romantic comedy; if they do not, it is a tragedy.

On balance, the odds are probably around 50-50. But they drop dramatically when terminal illness enters the picture. It is hard to have a happy ending when at least one party is likely to eventually drop dead.

Within the narrow confines of that genre, though, this film does a good job in getting you to root for the young lovers and put you through the emotional wringer when the Grim Reaper reaches out.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are well cast in the main roles. Casting is tricky because if the leads are too good-looking, there is the risk of this turning into an idol drama coasting along on sickly chic cheekbones and glib emotions.

Woodley is approachably girl-next-door and proves she has the range to go from sullen teen in The Descendants (2011) to action heroine in Divergent (2014) to romantic lead here.

Neither is Elgort, who also starred in Divergent, aggressively good-looking. But he has enough of a sunny, jockish look for Hazel's disbelief to ring true when she learns that he is a virgin.

The connection between Hazel and Gus feels genuine and deeper as they have to contemplate death and their place in the world along with more mundane concerns.

In the midst of sick lit territory here, there is also humour and a little bit of sexiness to lighten the gloom. Director Josh Boone (who wrote and directed Stuck In Love, 2012) handles the material with a light and assured touch.

After countless movies where couples who meet and bond over shared music tastes, it is nice to have one bonding over a book. It also helps to propel the movie forward - Hazel and Gus embark on a little adventure to meet the author of the book (a crotchety Willem Dafoe) in Amsterdam.

In its opening week in the United States, the film moved to a first-place finish ahead of A-list projects Tom Cruise's sci-fi vehicle Edge Of Tomorrow and Angelina Jolie's Maleficent. Both the book's strong fanbase and Boone's sensitive adaptation probably helped.

The stars were certainly aligned for the movie.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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