“I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories,” says Hazel Grace Lancaster at the beginning of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars
. For author John Green—who wrote the novel of the same name—he approaches sad stories with wisdom, wit and a heartbreaking blow. In voice-over narrative, we are introduced to Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old with an unpronounceable form of lung cancer and an often cynical—she would probably call it realistic—outlook on life that’s best expressed in a line from her favorite book: “Pain demands to be felt.” When she meets fellow cancer patient Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a support group for teens with cancer, the two predictably and reluctantly fall in love. Typical rom-com moments ensue: a montage of Hazel repeatedly checking her phone, waiting for Augustus to text her for the first time; a room of people clapping after their first kiss; a fancy dinner where the waiter refers to them as “Mr. and Mrs. Waters.” But they’re self-aware about being star-crossed lovers. “You’ve just got a touch of cancer,” one says to the other jokingly, just after they’ve discussed their numbered days alive. This is the film’s true success: It seesaws from funny banter to talk of death and then right back to playful repartee. Woodley’s performance is unsurprisingly absorbing, but the real fun comes with Elgort’s Augustus. He exudes a wicked wit and a magnetic confidence that works with Woodley’s world-weary intelligence. You’ll probably hear people call The Fault in Our Stars
“that romance movie about kids with cancer,” but really it’s a story about love and dealing with loss—and not about cancer. “Pain demands to be felt,” sure, but love does too.