The Fault in Our Stars ★★★

The term “emo” was fazed out of teenage parlance once hyper-emotionalism became the default mode of young life. A movie like The Fault in Our Stars will anger certain types of screenwriters who prefer that feelings be talked around rather than expressed directly.

“I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep, slowly at first, then all at once.”

If lines like that connect with you, it doesn’t make you uncommon. Some contemporary dialogue is inspired by pop song lyrics moreso than film, theatre, or delusions of naturalism, and for a movie about modern adolescents, that’s the right step.

Certainly, The Fault in Our Stars bleeding heart self-grandeur is truer than the space alien embarrassment of MTV’s Awkward. Its focus on a young couple stricken with cancer brings the current Teen Dystopia trend to its simplest expression of adolescent malaise: Infinity was promised and then stolen.

If the televisual style of director Josh Boone doesn’t do a good enough job living up to the narcissism of the movie’s title, stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort sell it with compassion. The Fault in Our Stars is the kind of movie that points out its own metaphors, and then twists the definition. This tendency peaks in a moment where the terminal leads find themselves at the Anne Frank House and discover that they’re Anne Frank.

That choice has been met with cries of insensitivity (and there’s no overlooking that this is another movie about white kids placed in a nostalgic middle class delusion), but The Fault in Our Stars is simply extending on the pop tradition of The Shangri-Las assuming the role of a teenager mourning her boyfriend’s accidental death, and of Morrissey finding commiseration in historical victims of child murderers. It’s a YA property leading by heart, a tactic that works until it begins to feel that the ending will never arrive, and only after opening moments that are even more turgid, digging for a satiric bent with cheap targets and cruel results.

It thankfully doesn’t take The Fault in Our Stars too long to find its earnest voice, approaching teen existence with the melodramatics we pretend to hate, but can’t entirely deny.