This screen adaptation of John Green’s 2012 young-adult bestsellerabout star-crossed teens who meet at a cancer support group opens with an apologetic declaration that what follows will not be sugar-coated fiction but harsh reality. In fact, it’s a mixture of the two; an effective (and affecting) weepie that marries the unashamed sentimentality of Love Story with the rougher edges of Now Is Good, while largely eschewing the insufferable archness of Gus Van Sant’s appalling Restless. As the narrative follows its sparky subjects from America to Amsterdam in search of answers to life, the universe and everything, we get to enjoy their amiable company and become seduced by their no-bullshit attitude, their conversation sparking plenty of laughs and oceans of tears as love blooms and nature takes its inexorable course.
“This story is Titanic,” declares, alarmingly, director Josh Boone, in the press bumf, “and cancer is the iceberg we’re going to hit eventually” – a toe-curling description that rings truest when Gus and Hazel Grace wind up being applauded by smiling onlookers while sharing a kiss in the Anne Frank attic. Really. Luckily, (500) Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber are on hand to lend an alt-indie edge that cuts through the mawkish manipulation, with Divergent graduates Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort making a likable fist of the leads. Meanwhile Laura Dern worries away behind a David St Hubbins haircut as Hazel Grace’s anguished mother, and Willem Dafoe chews the drunken scenery as the flawed author of An Imperial Affliction with whom our young leads fall both in and out of love.