"The Fault in Our Stars," a romance about two dying teenagers, wears its cynicism the way many young people do: awkwardly and not very convincingly. That, however, may be its selling point. Just like John Green's shrewdly written, best-selling novel, Josh Boone's film version strikes a snarky, jaded, self-aware attitude, only to collapse into a puddle of poetry and tears. In other words, "The Fault in Our Stars" is aimed with dead-on accuracy at the teenage heart.
Its heroine is a 16-year-old thyroid cancer survivor, Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by a very good Shailene Woodley in a hard-won performance. Nasally intubated and smothered by her parents (Sam Trammell and Laura Dern, both brief but moving), Hazel is the bitter one in her support group, the girl who meets every positive vibe with a blast of Beckett-esque bleakness. Hers will not be the story "where beautiful people learn beautiful lessons," she warns us in the movie's opening voice-over. "This is the truth. Sorry."
Hold that brutal thought, because in saunters dreamy Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort (Woodley's co-star in "Divergent") with a tad more smarm than charm. Confident and poised -- even on his prosthetic leg, the result of osteosarcoma -- Augustus zeros in on Hazel and quickly begins breaking her brittle facade with sledgehammers of sincerity. A fan of the grand gesture, he whisks her to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author. That reclusive misanthrope, played by an alarmingly weird Willem Dafoe, won't be the only downer on an otherwise romantic getaway.
This is a love story as old as, well, "Love Story," the gushy novel-turned-blockbuster from 1970. In fact, that's exactly the kind of movie that this movie is pretending not to be. "The Fault in Our Stars," written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, of "(500) Days of Summer," has moments of emotional depth and gallows humor (Nat Wolff plays a video-game fanatic losing his eyesight), but there's something dishonest about its anti-Hollywood, real-deal posturing. The flowery speeches and conventional literary references (Shakespeare, Dickinson) create a veneer of profundity, but the movie's real mission is pretty basic: to send another generation sobbing from theaters.
PLOT Two young cancer survivors fall in love.
RATING PG-13 (mild language, brief sexuality)
CAST Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe
BOTTOM LINE Flash-flood warnings are in effect now that this teen tear-jerker has finally opened. Strong performances from Woodley and Dern make it almost bearable.