Final Rating: 7.8/10
John Green’s popular novel The Fault In Our Stars was the sole focus of many adolescents online. Through social media, this film has become a gargantuan story of romance, life and death. For many, it was a story that could help them understand fatal illnesses on a personal level. It was a story that countless people held dear to them. When Josh Boone’s film adaptation was announced with Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley as the film’s leads, this created a hype that was just as big as the novel’s popularity before anything from the film was even released to the public. The movie is interesting as it does deal with cancer upfront and it works with this sensitive subject matter lightly and heavily. Having not read the novel, I cannot say if it replicates the same atmosphere the original source may have had, but knowing that Green was on set for most of production and seeing his utmost appraisal of the film, it must be pretty close.
To pass the obvious out of the way, the film does get cheesy. It’s inevitable. It’s a romance film that tugs at your heartstrings with its scary reality that everyone dies. It’s geared towards teenagers, many of whom have no idea how to fully grasp these facets of life quite yet. For what it’s worth, almost all of the shmaltzy lines still have a bit of wit behind them. We see Augustus (Elgort) put a cigarette in his mouth but not lighting it to remind himself that death is always near but he refuses to light the cigarette just as he refuses to give death “power”. It’s a forced metaphor, but keep in mind that this is a teenager speaking to another teenager in a story geared for teenagers. At least we’re getting metaphors in a film of this nature. The lines of dialogue that aren’t slathered in mozzarella, however, do end up being surprisingly clever. Nothing is an absolute annoyance in this film, so the lowest you’ll get is a line that may make you exhale through your nose a little bit out of either admiration or acceptance.
This rings true to many aspects of the movie. The movie is always harmless, even when it stares its scary subject matter in the face (with either the occasional dark joke or the really harsh statements during confrontational moments). It does feel formulaic, but it is still a ride worth giving a shot because nothing about it hurts in the wrong way. The moments that are meant to be powerful usually come through on point, and those that don’t still offer some food for though. This is thanks to some rather remarkable performances. Augustus is smug, extremely confident and would seem really phoned in if Elgort didn’t effectively make him someone who feels as though he has little to lose in the world. In the more serious moments, Elgort goes way out of his comfort zone with appearances so starkly different from his usually charming self that they make the scenes that contain him all the more upsetting. Laura Dern as the main character Hazel’s mother does a terrific job as a role model trying her best to make a good life for her sick child. She questions little to allow Hazel enjoyment but cares a lot to make sure that she will be as healthy as possible. Willem Dafoe is his usual villainous self, but here he is a role model of both Hazel and Augustus who ends up representing life in human form: Much harsher than you’ve been led to believe. It is an immensely unlikable character that Dafoe saves from being a complete pile of scum with a sense of self abuse behind his eyes. The winning performance here, though, is Shailene Woodley’s in yet another piece of evidence that this actress is one of the most gifted of her age. She truly feels sick, her emotions are hyper realistic, and she cares little of how she looks but more of how her spirit resonates with us. We see her history of humility in her body language. Her voice remains in her head as breathing is something she struggles with the entire movie (and Woodley replicates this to true form). Everything about Woodley’s performance shimmers.
The Fault In Our Stars is above many teen romance films of recent years. It won’t cement itself within the minds of cinephiles like Short Term 12 or The Spectacular Now (another Woodley film) will especially when it comes to showing young love naturally, but it will grab something from anyone who watches it. It is still with a beating heart and a teary eye. Some may find the film typical but all will find it in some way, shape or form engaging (even for a little while). It does a good job of mixing its genres and its target audiences, and we cannot fault a film that has so many good intentions behind it (enough to make the film all the worth watching). It is a film that should be seen for the characters these actors have brought to life; These people that don’t work as pity cases but as everyday people who just happen to unfortunately have cancer. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and it’s endearing, and while it may not break ground, it will still bring us together.