Drama/Romance, 126 Minutes, 2014
Cancer kids have cancer. They have each other too, but they still have lots and lots of cancer. This isn’t that TV cancer that doesn’t actually do anything. This is the real kind that leaves you all tubed and tired and sweaty and gross.
That’s actually a good thing. There’s a depressing trend in young-adult entertainment that romanticizes sickness and hides the physical effects of it. Characters look picture perfect as they meet, fall in love and live their lives. Until that moment when they need drama and the actor-models collapse and everybody gets the signal to cry. This isn’t totally devoid of that artifice, but there’s a refreshing honesty about the effects of sickness that’s not often seen.
Shailene Woodley’s [IMDB] Hazel meets Ansel Elgort’s [IMDB] Gus at a support group for children with cancer and they hit it off. Hazel’s prognosis is bleak and this is, understandably, depressing her. Gus has an infectious optimism that gets under the skin and is impossible to ignore for long. They balance each other.
The chemistry between the leads is warm and believable. It’s bolstered by a strong, smart script that leverages, but never relies upon, cliche. You shouldn’t be expecting this story to surprise you. Predictable doesn’t have to be terrible. Real life is often predictable (and terrible).
While the focus is the relationship between Hazel and Gus, many other aspects of terminal illness are touched upon. The affect it has on family and friendships is explored, although not in any great detail. It allows for a nice supporting performance from Laura Dern [IMDB] as Hazel’s mother and an impressive extended cameo by Willem Dafoe [IMDB] as a right bastard.
It’s likely obvious if this is going to be your thing or not. Tragic love amongst cancer-ridden teens isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, after all. This could have easily just been more schlocky, easy young-adult drama, but it puts in the work and rises above that.