Beloved novel 'The Fault in Our Stars' packs cinematic punch

I haven't read John Green's bestselling novel, "The Fault in Our Stars," but I know enough teenagers to realize that there is a lot of anticipation surrounding this beloved book making its way to the big screen. Those fans should be quite pleased by the resultant movie hitting theaters today. Despite some story and character issues, the film packs an undeniable emotional punch.

OK, I'll admit it. The film made me cry.

Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel, a young woman trying to survive cancer. Her parents are scared that she's giving up her fight, so they convince her to attend a church support group, where she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), a cute and cocky cancer survivor who is immediately attracted to Hazel.

Gus is one of those impossibly good-looking and well-meaning boys who live mostly in teenage girl fantasies. He's nearly a gimmick, but he does give Hazel a reason to live every day as if it might be her last. They make a cute couple, engaging in hyper-literate banter that is as entertaining as it is far-fetched.

I'm a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. The characters are caricatures at times, the dialogue is unbelievable and the story is engineered to put the audience through the emotional wringer. It's quite manipulative, but there's no denying that it works. I can't imagine anybody walking out of this theater with dry eyes, even if you fall outside of the film's teenage girl core demographic.

"The Fault in Our Stars" could have easily devolved into a ham-fisted melodrama, given the cancer and young love story elements. Woodley gets much of the credit for keeping the story grounded in some sense of reality, thanks to her very credible performance that walks the line between tragic melodrama and feel-good life affirmation mantra. She's yet another very talented young actress who is proving to be much more than just a pop starlet.

I was less impressed with the rest of the supporting cast, but that's to be expected given that they fall mostly outside of the main story. I also felt that the film ran a bit too long, although I suspect that fans of the book wouldn't mind sitting with these characters for several hours more.

All things considered, "The Fault in Our Stars" is probably a better book than it is a movie. Still, there is certainly enough good stuff here to make the fans happy at seeing their beloved characters translated to the movie screen. There's also enough good stuff in the movie to make non-fans consider picking up a copy of the book.

You might also want to pick up a handkerchief at the same time because fan or not, "The Fault in Our Stars" will make you cry.

Three Stars ***