How do you live your life when you suffer from a potentially fatal illness? Do you keep quiet and do nothing or do you live your life to the fullest? Do you take risks even if they meant you risked an earlier relapse or do you play it safe and risk nothing? These are the kind of questions the film asks. Even one of Hazel's (Shailene Woodley) doctors advises her against fatiguing herself by travelling to Europe to visit her favourite author; he basically tells her to shut up, stop dreaming or planning anything unrelated to her cancer and die quietly.
Hazel eventually manages to travel to Europe but for a fewer days than planned, for the very first time in her life. She goes along with her boyfriend Gus (Ansel Elgort) and her mother (Laura Dern). The trip does not prove to be as she expected but she mostly has a good time. In Holland she is happy but also has a few sad moments. Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author they visit in Holland, is fictional, having written a just as fictional book, An Imperial Affliction, which John Green made up for the needs of his plot.
He is kind of rude to them and almost mars their trip to Europe. Hazel and Gus are fascinated by his book, partly because it deals with cancer. They particularly leaned on one of its quotes, "Pain deserves to be felt". This fictional book is one of the central elements of the plot, and one of the reasons Hazel and Gus' bond becomes stronger over time. Their bad impression of Van Houten is partly softened by his very polite helper (the Dutch actress Lotter Verbeek), who happily accompanies the young couple around Amsterdam, including the House of Anne Frank.
The film is funny, witty, romantic, but also tragic. Finely written, directed, cast and photographed, and with a really exceptional performance by the two lead actors. Not pessimistic, realistic. Perhaps not suitable for you when you would like to cheer up. Be prepared to cry quite a bit, just as I did in the end. It is drama at its finest, with a lot of romance and not a few funny moments. Highly recommended, I give it 8.5 out of 10.