Every so often, a movie comes along that will instantaneously determine what a woman will think of you simply based on your opinion on it. A romantic escapade that touches their heart so completely that any man would be an insensitive monster to see any seams within it. I think it’s fairly safe to say, The Fault In Our Stars is going to be that film for at least a couple years. No pressure.
Ok ladies…here we go.
The Fault in Our Stars centers on Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley), a teenage girl who has been suffering from lung cancer since she was thirteen years old. She’s mostly better now due to some experimental medication, but still has trouble breathing, requiring an oxygen tank. Despite her best efforts to be anywhere else, she finds herself in a support group for teens with cancer, and there, she stumbles across Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a charismatic, optimistic young man who had to give up his left leg to send his own cancer into remission. Almost instantly, he is drawn to Hazel’s individuality and strength, and the two form a deep, and passionate bond that culminates in a trip to Amsterdam to meet an author that they both deeply admire.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first…I have not read this book. I know that is sacrilege to about 95% of the fans of these type of things, but quite simply, I’ve always responded more deeply to film, and I wanted to be exposed to a story that has moved so many people in the format that would have the best effect on me. With that said, is The Fault in Our Stars worth the nearly feverish hype it has acclimated? Not quite. However, as a simple little love story, it’s a solid, if heavily flawed tale.
The greatest strength here lies in the performances. While I’ve certainly been back and forth on Shailene Woodley’s persona offscreen, there is no denying that she is one hell of a talented actress. She engraves Hazel with a great deal of depth, and most of it goes on beneath the surface. Sure, she’s a charmer when she does open her mouth, but there is so much more going on in the way she subtly uses her face to convey Hazel’s initial emotional unavailability, and ultimately, her complete infatuation with Augustus. Speaking of Augustus, relative newcomer Ansel Elgort is a revelation here. He sells every second of Augustus’ cheesy, sardonic charm, as well as his powerful love for Hazel. These two are incredibly likable together, and it’s ultimately their performances that sell this whole thing, and that is no easy task, because they’ve got some major hurtles to overcome.
As strong as the performances are here, the dialogue can be equally schmaltzy and overbearing. If I had to take a shot in the dark, I would say that screenwriter Scott Neustadter almost slavishly transcribed the dialogue from the novel…because that’s what so much of this feels like…prose. Sometimes this works to great effect, such as in Hazel’s narrations, but other times, particularly when Hazel and Augustus are just talking to each other, are just cringe worthy and at points feel straight out of the Anakin and Padme sequences from the Star Wars prequels. Even so, most of it is sold with bracing conviction from the two leads.
Not to mention, the writing is far from all bad here. There are a great deal of scenes between Hazel and her mother (Laura Dern) that really work, some fantastically romantic moments with Augustus, and in one of the film’s best moments, the author in question (Willem Dafoe) completely shattering dreams in a brutally honest monologue.
What ultimately makes and breaks every scene in this movie, are the choices of director Josh Boone. There are times when his style could not be more heavy handed. Sequences that should be hugely urgent reduced to awkward slow motion, or shot from a first person point of view with that annoying Vaseline like filter on the camera to show just how wounded the character is. Then, on the flip of a coin, he becomes a master of very similar sequences. Whenever he lets his actors breathe, he does a great job, and thankfully he lets off the gas big time once the emotion really starts to kick in. There is one sequence towards the end of this film that is so beautifully constructed, well acted, and heart wrenching that it almost had me crying along with all of the girls in the theater.
Also, this thing gets off to a really, really rough start. Satire is not this story’s forte, and all of the sequences in the support group with this odd guitar playing man with a Jesus rug are so offputtingly cutesy that it made me wonder if I was in for a really hard night. Fortunately, as soon as the romance starts, it becomes the movie it wants to be.
I suppose many of my problems with this film come from my preference for more authentic romances in film. In short, I’m much more of a Spectacular Now (also starring Woodley), 500 Days of Summer type of guy. However, as far as these more elevated romance films go, this is a pretty good one. It straddles the line of cheesiness with effective performances, and real moments of human emotion for every more calculated one. I just wish that they have strayed more from John Green’s novel, and went for a cinematic feel, because if they had, this could have been a great movie instead of merely a good one. Even so, believe me, in twenty years, I’ll be showing my daughter this film years, or hopefully, eternities before something like Twilight is even mentioned.