When a movie lies so effectively and beautifully, you have to admire it. From the very top we’re told that, unlike other young romance films, this is “the truth.” And then the film goes on, except in one aspect, to be exactly like every other young romance with huge gestures, manipulated circumstances, and deep passions. And, damn them, it works.
I’m not saying there weren’t aspects that were daring or rare but, generally, this is exactly the movie it claims not to be; through some brilliant prestidigitation, it convinces you otherwise. That success is in large part due to the source material of Green’s novel. Weber and Neustadter (500 Days of Summer) did a great job on the adaptation, keeping humor and life where darkness and pathos could creep in.
But it is primarily Woodley (The Spectacular Now) and Elgort (Carrie), and their chemistry, that makes this film works. Woodley, in particular. While Elgort creates a great character, it really is Woodley who shines and shows her rather significant chops. She’s getting a leg up in the industry not unlike how Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Days of Future Past) did when her career launched. Secret Life of the American Teenager aside, it is the past couple years that brought Woodley to the general public, starting with The Descendents. The two young leads were, oddly enough, most recently paired in Divergent as brother and sister… and you have to forget that relationship if you don’t want to be squicked out for this film.
Boone (Stuck in Love) guided the film with a fairly light hand, though a little heavy on the score for me. He got out of the way, allowing the performances to drive the story. The adults he added to fill out the story were well selected too. Dern (The Master), Trammell (True Blood), and Dafoe (Odd Thomas) each provided additional facets to the main plot that helped it along. Sadly, Dafoe, for all his power and intensity, creates an outlandish character that becomes central to the denouement, but is also the most unreal. This is a flaw in both the script and direction to my mind. I’m not sure it could be easily fixed, but it stood out amidst an otherwise grounded plot.
You know, or should know, from the the first frames what you’re getting into with the story. It isn’t an easy path, though one could argue whether it is a happy ending or not. The journey and message clearly resonate with people; it was a huge boxofffice hit. And, honestly, the movie is worth it for the performances, even as I continue to take exception to the lie… even as I allowed it to fill me and wring me out. Is it a brilliant film? No. Is it solid? Absolutely, and worth seeing once, but I’d never need to see it again, personally. But that may just be me. Go, laugh, cry, smile. It will play you like an instrument and you will either thank it or be annoyed, depending on your particular bent.