Last summer, "The Spectacular Now" was the teen-trauma film of note, based on a well-regarded bestseller and starring an up-and-coming Shailine Woodley.
This year, it's "The Fault in Our Stars," which shares many attributes with its predecessor including having roots in a popular young-adult novel, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and a much-better-known Woodley, who moved up to star status with "Divergent" earlier this year.
Like "Spectacular," it walks that fine line between moving and mawkish without falling too far over to the latter side. Unlike that earlier film, though, which didn't make a huge splash in the mainstream, "Fault" looks to become the teary alternative to all the boom and bang of the summer superheroes.
Woodley plays Hazel, the typical outgoing teen-next-door. Except she has cancer, and has to travel with an oxygen tank wherever she goes. One of those places is a youth support group where she meets newcomer Gus (Ansel Elgort, also from "Divergent"), who has lost a leg to his disease.
They strike up a friendship that quickly escalates into something more as they wrestle with issues of fate and mortality. It's refreshing to see teenage relationships handled with grace and depth instead of the usual snark and cynicism. Director Josh Boone stays out of the way stylistically and lets the considerable naturalistic chemistry between Elgort and Woodley be the draw.
Their conversations, wavering between youthful bravado and grim determinism, feel authentic as does their budding romance. That's no doubt due in some part to John Green's book on which the film is based.
That doesn't mean there aren't moments that ring false. Laura Dern, as Hazel's concerned mom, is one-dimensional while Willem Dafoe as Van Houten, an author who has been inspirational to Hazel, is painted in such cartoonish strokes that he seems more like a convenient plot point than a real person.
Still, that doesn't dim the bright light at the heart of the story.