June 05, 2014

Fault in Our Stars, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Fault in Our Stars, The

DRAMA/ROMANCE:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-06-06

Running Length:

2:05

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Adult Themes)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe, Lotte Verbeek

Director:

Josh Boone

Screenplay:

Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, based on the book by John Green

Cinematography:

Ben Richardson

Music:

Mike Mogis, Nate Walcott

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


Calling The Fault in Our Stars a "teenage cancer romance" might be understating the film's laudable qualities but it's also a reasonably accurate three-word summary of the plot. Adapted from John Green's best-selling YA novel of the same name, The Fault in Our Stars merits notice not because of its formulaic storyline but because of the heartfelt manner in which it is presented. The acting is top-notch, the characters are three-dimensional, and the dialogue is sharp and witty. Josh Boone's direction is unremarkable but he understands how to get out of the way and let the actors do their thing. In the era of the auteur director, it's sometimes refreshing to find a filmmaker who recognizes the value of self-effacement.

To call a movie in which both leads have cancer and are dancing with the Grim Reaper a "feel good experience" isn't as unlikely as it might seem at first. Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) are in many ways more alive than most due to their constant awareness of the fragility of their existences. The average teenager isn't aware of his or her mortality; Hazel and Ausgustus have no choice but to be intimately acquainted with theirs. They live in the present because they may have no future. The movie captures this sense of immediacy in an effortless, unforced manner. Only toward the end, when events reach their terminus, does Boone overdo the manipulation. The only thing missing at this point is a blinking neon sign demanding: "Cry, dammit!" It's obvious The Fault in Our Stars doesn't want a dry eye in the theater.

The movie is told from Hazel's perspective and, although her voiceover narrative isn't a guarantee that she'll survive the proceedings, it offers a sense of reassurance. We’re introduced to her around the time she first encounters Augustus at a cancer support group meeting. Both of their diseases are in remission but she carries around an oxygen cylinder because her lungs are prone to filling with fluid and she can't breathe without it. Augustus appears completely healthy, having apparently beaten his affliction after losing a leg to it. The two bond, flirt, send each other witty text messages, and move forward with a quasi-romance until Hazel decides they should just be friends. She argues that since she's likely to die sooner than later, it would only hurt Augustus to become embroiled in a love affair with her. He demurs and continues to pursue her.

The screenplay contains more humor than can be found in the average cancer-related film, although it falls short of the pinnacle achieved by 50/50, which largely avoided the kind of overt manipulation that emerges late in The Fault in Our Stars. The characters here are beautifully realized. As cliché-riddled as the plot may be, Hazel and Augustus stand out as genuine, credible individuals, and the honesty with which they are brought to the screen trumps many other concerns and obfuscates nitpicky flaws. Shailene Woodley, who has blossomed in motion pictures during the past year with star turns in The Spectacular Now and Divergent, is in top form here (even if she seems a little too old to play a teenager). Her lover is brought to life by Ansel Elgort (who portrayed her brother in Divergent). Laura Dern is Hazel's mother; her role is meatier than is common for parents in teen-centered motion pictures. Willem Dafoe is Hazel's favorite author, Peter Van Houten, whose introduction argues that sometimes heroes and icons are best kept at a distance.

The movie adaptation of Green's novel is faithful to the source, in large part due to the author's ongoing involvement in the production. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars are unlikely to find fault with how the material has been transitioned from page to screen. The core demographic will likely be thrilled but even those who haven't read a page of the book and come to this project with a natural inclination toward cynicism will find things to appreciate about this tragic-yet-uplifting love story. The tale itself may be unremarkable but the characters and emotions are real, and sometimes that's all it takes for a movie to win over the unbelievers.

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