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New Review: The Fault in our Stars (2014)
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammel, Willem Dafoe
About a month ago, I went out and bought John Green's best-selling YA novel The Fault in our Stars on my younger brother's recommendation, and finished it in as little as a couple of days. Apart from a couple of reservations with the final third, I enjoyed it. The characters were well-drawn and immensely likable, the dialogue was acerbic yet surprisingly thoughtful, and there were several passages that were memorable for their brutal honesty, including what I thought was a terrific scene where Hazel Grace, the cancer-stricken teenager and narrator of the story, scolds a girl at her support group after the girl says how much she admires Hazel for her courage. The plot wasn't necessarily original, but it had a lot of heart, and had more to say than those YA books about vampires or teenagers falling in love with vampires.
The movie feels a few beats off. Some of the book's best scenes are absent from the film (including the scene mentioned in the previous paragraph), the romance between Hazel and the super positive Augustus Waters isn't as developed as it was in the book, and while there are several dramatic moments sprinkled here and there, the movie's depiction of the debilitating and horrifying effects of cancer feels quite tame (the book was far more grueling). With that said, The Fault in our Stars still works, and that is in large part due to its A-list cast. There isn't a performer in the movie who's miscast, and both Woodley and Elgort are so good as the main characters that they keep you involved in the story, even when the screenplay leaves something to be desired.
At the age of 13, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) was diagnosed with terminal thyroid cancer which, over time, spread down to her lungs. She carries an oxygen tank around with her everywhere she goes; without it, she won't be able to breathe on her own for very long. At her cancer support group, she meets the free-spirited Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort, who actually played Woodley's brother in this year's other YA movie adaptation, Divergent), who survived his cancer but lost one of his legs to his disease. Gus is immediately smitten with Hazel. He stares at her throughout a support group session, and invites her to his house afterward to watch a movie. The guy is quite the charmer. He's the sort of person who'll put a cigarette in his mouth without ever lighting it. "It's a metaphor," he tells Hazel. "You put that thing that kills you between your lips, but you don't give it the power to kill you!"
A relationship blossoms between the two of them. They flirt, send each other cute text messages, and recommend their favorite books to each other. Gus recommends a book that's based on one of his favorite video games. Hazel recommends a novel called An Imperial Affliction, which is, to Hazel, one of the truest portrayals of cancer ever written. The problem is that the book ends in the middle of a sentence, without giving any closure to the narrative. After sending several e-mails to the book's author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), he responds by telling them that if they're ever in Amsterdam to stop on by, and he'll answer any questions that they have about the book. Since Hazel used her foundation-financed "wish" on a trip to Disney and Epcot, Gus (who still has his wished saved up) uses his to arrange a trip for him and Hazel to go to Amsterdam and meet the famous Van Houten, which ends in bitter disappointment.
Even for those who haven't read Green's book, it's apparent that a love story about cancer-stricken teens is bound to end in tragedy. The final third of The Fault in our Stars is filled with scenes that are meant to get movie goers a-weeping, and if the audience I saw the movie with is any indication, it works. There were more than a few sniffles heard in the theater when the climax came around. I didn't cry, but I'll admit to having a lump in my throat during a few particular moments. All of this is thanks to the effortlessly charming and emotionally sincere performances turned in by both Woodley and Elgort, who, unlike some movie teens, are given thoughtful and well-written dialogue scenes that involve love, life, and the possibility of an afterlife. In the hands of lesser actors, the ending might have felt maudlin and sappy. With Woodley and Elgort in the leads, it's hauntingly effective.
The rest of the actors play their roles flawlessly. Nat Wolff never strikes a false note as Augustus's blind friend Isaac (he has a wonderful scene where he breaks all of Gus' basketball trophies following the break-up with his girlfriend), and both Laura Dern and Sam Trammell bring a surprising amount of depth and grace to their roles as Hazel's concerned parents. The performances are really the reason the movie works as well as it does, and they help sell a story that, while it involves dying teenagers, is really about life and the things that matter the most in it. This adaptation of Green's book certainly has its share of faults, but you won't find a single one of them with the stars of the movie.
Rated PG-13 for some strong language, some sexual content, thematic material
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on The Fault in our Stars (2014)
- Dustin Putman's Review: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
The Fault in Our Stars (2014) - 3/4 Stars - Dignified and genuinely moving, a winsomely three-dimensional romance set against an unavoidably fatalistic backdrop.
- The Fault in Our Stars Movie Review (2014) | Roger Ebert
- The Fault in Our Stars: a full-throttle, by-the-numbers tearjerker - The Globe and Mail
While it may not conform to real-life expectations, it certainly hues tightly to teen-flick conventions
- Review: "The Fault in Our Stars" - The Denver Post
The altogether lovely romance "The Fault in Our Stars" — based on the best-selling young-adult novel by John Green — shows what a franchise behemoth can do to actors and why intimate dramas offer them — and us — illuminating insights into our tiny ye