Anyone who dismisses The Fault In Our Stars as sentimental teen sap has just got their head in the wrong place. Although built around the same general formula as countless other flicks based on young adult novels, this one bucks the trend and actually tells a blunt, realistic love story that gets cut short by death, and doesn’t have the kind of garden variety storybook ending you can find anywhere else. This also isn’t the kind of sugar coated Walk To Remember type thing that doesn’t showcase how an illness or tragedy affects someone in favour of Hollywood gloss, either. In telling the story of Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Egort), director Josh Boone is lovingly dutiful to the details of the novel by John Green, and pretty much doesn’t change much of anything to pander our way. This is a story that could have happened to anyone: she’s sick, he’s sick, they both might not have long. Everyone around them behaves like they’re made of fine china and could break at any moment. All they really want is to live lives of some normalcy, and hold onto each other for as long as they can. Woodley is absolutely sensational and will break your heart with a performance that comes straight from the gut, while wearing her heart subtly on her sleeve with every glance and gesture. Egort displays the same glib facade he’d later use in Baby Driver, but carefully shows you the bruised soul underneath. There’s a truth to their journey, a willingness to focus on things like death and impermanence, which are often glanced over lightly in films that are geared towards younger audiences, as if such things are taboo. These two are faced with an impossible situation and it’s both fascinating and heartrending how they deal. They’re perfectly matched and when life gets in the way, it’s almost unbearable to see. Boone deliberately casts intense, committed cinema veterans to act alongside these brilliant newcomers including Laura Dern as Hazel’s soulful mother and Willem Dafoe as a cantankerous old fucker who’s hurting in his own way, and imparts some unconventional wisdom to her, when he’s not being a royal prick and listening to Dutch house music on full volume. Soundtrack choices include the likes of Charli XCX, Grouplove, Jake Bugg, The Radio Department and more, and are carefully woven into the tale to really bring it alive. It’s a hard, tragic thing to see unfold though, and the fact that it maintains such an unblinking, frank gaze at grief and loss makes it all the tougher, but it’s necessary to explore these things and put ourselves in the shoes of these people for a couple hours, if anything it’s like empathetic therapy for the viewer. Also, who doesn’t just love a raging tearjerker once in a while to flush the old ducts out.