John Green is crying again. Not because he’s sad, really. More like the way parents weep at weddings and high school graduations. This sudden, unstoppable rush of happy tears has become so common for the 36-year-old author as he watches the filming of his 2012 novel The Fault in Our Stars that it’s now a bit of a running joke. “John Green cries all the time,” says director Josh Boone, laughing. “This set basically has no testosterone whatsoever.”
This is a love story. It is a story of joy and devastating loss and, most of all, life. It will make you laugh and rejoice and think and feel, and it will expand your heart in gratitude and humility, and it will forever change the way you hear the word “okay,” and yes it will make you cry. If you are one of the millions of people who have read The Fault in Our Stars you know this already. If you are not, prepare yourself — you will not walk away from this book, or this film, unaltered. Okay? Okay.
It’s September 2013 on a bright afternoon in Pittsburgh, and Shailene Woodley, who plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16, stands in a simple blue dress the color of cornflowers and adjusts the cannula tubes in her nostrils. Her hair, so long and lustrous in her last film, Divergent, has been cropped short. She is waiting.
Hazel is a jeans-and-T-shirt girl. No makeup, no fuss. She also has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, so she must be connected to a portable oxygen tank to breathe. Not too long ago she met a boy named Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) in a cancer support group — Gus was there for his friend Isaac (Nat Wolff). Gus is in remission (osteosarcoma), is handsome and clever, and has homed in on Hazel like a tractor beam. She has resisted him — her diagnosis is terminal, and she spends a lot of time worrying about the destructive effect her death will have on her parents. But he is fearless and persistent, and she has, despite herself, quietly fallen in love with him. They are about to go out to dinner in Amsterdam — they’ve joined forces on a quest to meet the reclusive author of Hazel’s favorite book (Willem Dafoe) — and now she is standing in this room, wearing this dress that her mother (Laura Dern) picked out for her, and she is waiting for him.
In a separate room, Green and executive producer Isaac Klausner watch the monitor as the camera rolls and Gus, dapper in a dark suit, enters the room and sees Hazel. He stops, dumbstruck, before finally telling her she’s beautiful. Take after take, Woodley flushes on cue and the air between the two actors practically hums. When the scene ends, Green takes off his wire-rim glasses and dabs his eyes. “It’s that blue dress,” he says. Klausner pats him on the shoulder.