WATCHING Josh Boone’s film among mostly adolescent or slightly older women, about teenagers finding love under the dark cloud of cancer, pleased me because of its scope for observing their collective responses to the film’s strong emotional elements.
We all smiled audibly at the film’s amusing early stages as Hazel (Shailene Woodley) permanently on an oxygen breather and Gus (Ansel Elgort) wearing a prosthetic lower right leg got together to work out a shared modus vivendi for their afflictions, affections and constrained options.
Hazel wonders what author Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) had in mind with the incomplete ending to his novel about childhood cancer. Van Houten’s partner (Lotte Verbeek) arranges for her and Gus, chaperoned by her mom (Laura Dern) to visit Amsterdam. Van Houten, an alcoholic, marks the film’s middle section with bitter, angry rejection. At this stage, it was clear that the audience had got the message. They were watching a serious film in which life was delivering a rough deal to random victims.
Writer Scott Neustadter’s adaptation of John Green’s novel maintains a comfortable grasp on credibility. Hazel and Gus do indeed become lovers, as they had every right. And although the film needs no reinforcement of its statement about mortality’s inevitability, a visit to the Anne Frank house provides it in a gentle, deeply moving, way.
Leaving the cinema among young women not inclined to giggle or chatter was a gratifying experience. We had seen a slice-of-life ending sooner than is fair, but not so much so as to destroy scope for gratification until then.
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