Die lovely

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY


Di­rected by Josh Boone. Star­ring Shai­lene Wood­ley, Ansel El­gort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe 12A cert, 125 min

Hazel Grace Lan­caster (Shai­lene Wood­ley) is a 17-year-old ter­mi­nal cancer pa­tient. She sur­vives as a freak statistic in an ex­per­i­men­tal drug trial. But not for too much longer.

At the be­hest of her brave-faced mom (Laura Dern), Hazel reluc­tantly drags her wheelie oxy­gen tank along to a church-spon­sored sup­port group for sim­i­larly af­flicted young­sters. Here she bonds with Au­gus­tus Wa­ters (Ansel El­gort), a wise-cracking 18-year-old whose cancer is cur­rently in re­mis­sion fol­low­ing the am­pu­ta­tion of a leg. The star-crossed teens de­velop a mu­tual ob­ses­sion with each other and with Hazel’s favourite book, An Im­pe­rial Af­flic­tion. They dream of vis­it­ing the novel’s reclu­sive au­thor, Peter van Houten, in Am­s­ter­dam.

Will they ever make it across the At­lantic? And will the writer have an­swers to Hazel’s many ques­tions?

John Green’s wildly pop­u­lar Young Adult novel asks a ques­tion that has plagued hu­mankind since the cough­ing TB damsel first gained pop­u­lar­ity: who wouldn’t want to die young from cancer?

That’s a lit­tle un­fair: The Fault in Our Stars does, at least, use tech­ni­cal terms such as metas­ta­sised and os­teosar­coma. But, through­out, Hazel tells us rather than shows us when she’s out of breath. Her per­fect eye­lash ex­ten­sions re­main im­mune to all mor­tal af­flic­tions. There is, ad­di­tion­ally a lot of schtick (Au­gus­tus keeps but never smokes cig­a­rettes, so they have no power to harm him), in­clud­ing an aw­fully fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive.

This kind of disin­gen­u­ous­ness leaves the film sur­pris­ingly low on blub fac­tor. Set against the weepie pan­theon, it’s more like Twi­light in the ICU than such heart­felt clas­sics of the sub­genre, such as Dark Vic­tory, or con­tem­po­rary ri­vals Now Is Good and 50/50.

That is per­haps as it should be: both Hazel and Au­gus­tus are young­sters pro­tected by lay­ers of snark, ex­pe­ri­ence and gal­lows hu­mour. The low-Kleenex count is re­fresh­ing in the cir­cum­stances.

They are, also, dis­arm­ingly or­di­nary: smart but not in­tel­lec­tual, witty but un­likely to land a job in stand-up. The two leads are suit­ably win­some, and are ably sup­ported by show-steal­ers Nat Wolff (as Au­gus­tus’s BF) and Willem Dafoe (as the com­pellingly ghastly Peter van Houten).

It’s a shame that this rather cred­i­ble screen teen hero­ine has been en­trusted to some­one who thinks fem­i­nism means tak­ing power away from men. But it’s de­light­ful to see a sum­mer movie with hu­man­ity in­stead of CGI su­per-ro­bots. Go people.

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