The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

One sick love story.

Based on the number one New York Times best-seller by author John Green — who shot to fame after the launch of his 2007 YouTube VlogBrothers channel, which he ran with his brother, Hank — The Fault in Our Stars looks to challenge the contemporary adolescent market by exposing them to the harsh reality of cancer by skillfully blending romance with looming death. The Fault in Our Stars tackles an undeniably heavy subject matter — anyone who has read the book can attest — but the picture compassionately captures the same wit, tenderness and tragedy of John Green’s novel. Devoid of vampires, werewolves or dystopian futures, this inspiring teenage love story focuses on the very real issues of mortality, love and loss, in a touching tale regarding first love and highlighting truths about bottled up stars, streaming tears and the fragile nature of human life.

The Fault in Our Stars — the book’s title is a variation on a quote from Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves …’ — is set in Indianapolis, Indiana, where sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a cancer survivor whose, ‘lungs sucked at being lungs,’ reluctantly attends a cancer patients’ support group at her mother’s (Laura Dern) behest. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a one-legged teenage cancer amputee, who fears oblivion and wishes to make his mark on the unforgiving world. From the moment they meet, the couple forms a special relationship, sharing their individual dreams and innermost thoughts.

They're sick with love!
They’re sick with love!

As the pair’s friendship grows, they agree to read each other’s favorite novels. Augustus gives Hazel The Price of Dawn, and Hazel recommends An Imperial Affliction, by the mysterious author, Peter Van Houten — who evidently fled to Amsterdam after the novel was published. Hazel explains her admiration for An Imperial Affliction, a sincere story about a female cancer patient, which maddeningly ends mid-sentence, denying the reader closure in regards to the fate of the novel’s characters. In order to surprise Hazel, Augustus — through a series of cryptic e-mails — tracks down Van Houten, and — with the help of a charitable foundation that grants the wishes of kids with cancer — the pair prepare to head to Amsterdam, where they’ll meet the puzzling Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) and finally get closure on Hazel’s much loved novel.

It’s safe to say, director Josh Boone, Stuck in Love (2012), handles the picture and its subject matter quite delicately — almost too carefully — remaining faithful to Green’s work and his characters. Here, the unadventurous Boone, has opted to stick with traditional, polished, static shots for the majority of The Fault in Our Stars, giving the film, a more or less, text-book, small screen look; almost afraid to take chances — it’s as if Boone was too anxious he might upset fans if he attempted anything outside the conventional cinematic direction. Although Hazel states that, ‘the truth behind this sad story cannot be sugar-coated,’ The Fault in Our Stars still indulges in cinematic softener in the form of its score by indie-rock group, Bright Eyes, and soundtrack — which includes the likes of Ed Sheeran, Birdy and M83 — to lighten the film’s tear-jerking moments. What’s more, the picture throws numerous enforced ‘fairy-tail’ scenes at us, which will no doubt swoon adolescent hearts — the romantic dinner for two in Amsterdam is just one example that plainly comes to mind.

You're never too old to enjoy a playground.
You’re never too old to enjoy a playground.

None-the-less, the picture is chiefly driven by the infectious chemistry between its stars and Green’s radiant dialogue, which has been largely left untouched by screenwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s, The Spectacular Now (2013), faithful script. Shailene Woodley — who has already shown her credentials in The Descendants (2011) and Divergent (2014) — is a delight to watch; she portrays the multi-layered personality of Hazel — who carts around an oxygen tank — with total conviction, making the character easy to sympathize and identify with, once again, confirming Woodley’s leading star presence. Ansel Elgort, Divergent (2014), has fun with the goofy-yet-charming personality of Augustus Waters and together, the actors make an enduing couple, finding their own ‘always’ word and sharing an open-minded romance, not built on superficial good-looks, but rather, their chemistry and intellect.

The relationship between Hazel and her parents, particularly her mother, Frannie, Laura Dern, Jurassic Park (1993), is equally as heart-warming and adds gravity to the picture — it’s delightful seeing such a powerful mother-daughter bond present in a high-profile Hollywood film. Sam Trammell, from HBO’s True Blood (2008), is similarly as credible as Hazel’s caring father, Michael, although his lack of real screen-time somewhat negates his character’s worth. Nat Wolff, Stuck in Love (2012), is decent as Augustus’ blind, offbeat friend Isaac; however, the film’s most interesting male character is the controversial author Peter Van Houten, played by a perfectly cast Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man (2000), who impeccably depicts the alcoholic-writer’s disdain.

Between the three of us, we have five legs, four eyes and two and a half pairs of working lungs.
Between the three of us, we have five legs, four eyes and two and a half pairs of working lungs.

As one might already be aware, The Fault in Our Stars deliberately sets us up for a fall in its ill-fated third act. It is here that the destiny of our star-crossed lovers is revealed — and while rather forced — this third act thankfully succeeds and stands as the narrative’s strongest asset, as Green’s work earns our tears by celebrating life instead of victimizing cancer and death. With its primarily solid cast — particularly Woodley — The Fault in Our Stars is warm, smart and funny, yet it also manages to tug at audience’s heartstrings, ranking as an honest adaptation or tribute to Green’s writing. When the final credits roll, even cynics will no doubt be wiping their watery eyes, as this heartbreaking tale ultimately speaks many volumes about the painful, volatile, truth of human mortality.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Fault in Our Stars is released through 20th Century Fox Australia