The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

2014 Seattle International Film Festival

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For all the awful young love stories there are, there are always a few shining stars within the bunch. Stories that really captivate the reader and present a realistic approach to love and the characters who fall under its spell. Storytelling and dialogue will go a long way, but it’s the characters who keep our interest vested and practically force us to keep reading. With love being the constant throughout these novels, some diversification goes a long way and making things sad is always a safe bet. However, if a silver lining can be found within the sadness, you may have something special on your hands.

Hazel looks at Augustus with disbelief.
Hazel looks at Augustus with disbelief.

In a world that romanticizes everything, love and its outreach is especially emphasized. It’s always the normal and exceptionally attractive people who find love and have everything they could ever want in life. That’s not the truth, at least not to Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley). Hazel is a realistic and sometimes cynical teenager, due in part to the fact that she’s living with cancer and must wheel around an oxygen tank. She re-reads the same book, an Imperial Affliction, and she’s stuck going to cancer support groups, because her parents (Laura Dern & Sam Trammell) think she’ll make friends there. Despite her disbelief of that reasoning, Hazel eventually finds a friend in the charming and irresistibly bad Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). Augustus, a cancer survivor with a prosthetic leg, proves that maybe love doesn’t have boundaries.

While their dates and hangouts are full of life and wonder, Hazel can’t help but think that things won’t work out in the end. Her lungs are barely functioning and she’s never going to get completely better, meaning that she could die at any point and she doesn’t want to do that to her family and Gus. Seeing the outcome of Gus’ friend Isaac (Nat Wolff), who lost his eyes to cancer and became self-destructive afterwards, Hazel is weary to become romantically involved with Gus. It doesn’t help that she thinks less of her self because of her illness and appearance, but that doesn’t mean that Gus is going to stop trying to win her heart. The two go back-and-forth with humor, sadness, and  the most interesting outlook on life imaginable. They may not be “normal” teenagers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be normal together.

Augustus and his metaphor stare down Hazel.
Augustus and his metaphor stare down Hazel.

The Fault In Our Stars has been poised to be the biggest Young-Adult novel-to-film adaptation yet and it almost lives up to those standards. The book offered a fun and much-needed twist to conventional love stories, with the central focus falling on a young girl whose living with cancer. She’s witty and sarcastic, given her situation, and her outlook on life is often humorous. Author John Green‘s approach to this tale of love and cancer is refreshingly beautiful and it’s no surprise that the book captured the hearts of people of all ages. It’s wonderfully written and has some great characters within it, but the real challenge would be seeing how it played as a feature film.

Shailene Woodley is arguably one of the best actresses working today and she’s become an instant favorite of mine in the last few years. She’s played a wide range of roles in just a few films and her ability to transform into real and fragile characters is outstanding. Here, she completely immerses herself in the role of Hazel and becomes the girl that you’ve been reading about. Her humor is on-point, her reactions are genuine, and her facial expressions tell you all that you’d need to know about who she is. As Hazel, Woodley offers up yet another stellar performance to add to her resume and her subtle beauty and real approach to the character makes her shine brighter than ever before. It’s impossible not to smile when she laughs and it’s hard not to cry when you see her in complete agony. She plays her character to perfection and you couldn’t ask for more from this incredible actress.

Isaac discusses matters with Hazel.
Isaac discusses matters with Hazel.

John Green wrote a hell of a novel and his style of writing is what stands out, aside from his characters. In the hands of any other writers, this film wouldn’t have been nearly as smart, funny, and heartbreaking. Fortunately, Scott. Neustadter and Michael H. Weber got the job and they really outdid themselves. Their past writing efforts include the wonderful (500) Days of Summer and the phenomenal The Spectacular Now, so it’s no surprise that this film’s dialogue is one of its strongest suits. A lot of the dialogue is left as is, but some was changed for the film and it works well with everything that’s going on. The heart-wrenching monologues are crafted beautifully and the banter between characters is marvelous. These two guys know how to write romance, with a side of humor and disparity on the side.

Woodley may be the standout star, but this film also has a ton of great supporting characters that help her along the way. Most notably, Elgort is the one who’ll be getting most of the secondary attention. He plays the character of Augustus really well and he fits the build for the effortlessly charming hunk, who’s also a sweetheart. For me, I have a problem with the character of Augustus in the novel, but I can’t deny that Elgort is great in the role. For me, the secondary MVP would go to Nat Wolff, the former Naked Brothers Band member who’s on a meteoric rise to the top. Just recently, he’s been popping up in quite a few films and his sarcastic and wild approach to his characters presents a balance of hilarious and wild, which works well in this film. He’s a ton of fun to watch and his emotional vulnerability may be his strongest suit. Also turning in some great performances were Laura Dern and Sam Trammell, who had the task of playing Woodley’s emotionally unstable parents.

Augustus and Hazel get all cuddled up.
Augustus and Hazel get all cuddled up.

Given that this is a film about love, with the focus point being the fact that these teenagers have cancer, you have to know that it’s going to be pretty sad at some points. While there’s a lot of joy and laughter to be had, there are just as many times for sadness and tears and it gets really annoying when a swelling score accompanies those sad moments. I already had goosebumps and tears building from the actors and their words, so I really didn’t need all the sad music to emphasize the fact that I should be feeling sad. It got really annoying and it made the film feel really schmaltzy. As if that weren’t bad enough, I really disliked Willem Dafoe in this film because his approach to the character felt so out-of-place with the tone and progression of the film. He stalls everything that’s good and I started to lose interest in the film whenever he appeared. As stated earlier, I’m not overly fond of the character of Augustus, but I could at least tolerate his perfect character.

For a majority of the time, I really liked this film and that’s due to the fact that there were extraordinary actors working with extraordinary writers. They made most everything believable and I loved what I was seeing and hearing, especially anything involving Woodley. She and Nuestadter & Weber need to collaborate more often, as their work in The Spectacular Now still remains my favorite tale of love. This film could have been better though, especially in the hands of another director. Josh Boone‘s whimsical style of direction works for bits and pieces of the film, but he applies that style to moments that don’t need, or deserve it and he took me out of the film with his attempt to make things more sad than they had to be. Most of this film is really great, but it had the potential to be that much better. Still, throw all the awards at Woodley, Neustadter, and Weber!

The Fault In Our Stars Trailer
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ItBvH5J6ss

4 STARS!!!

4 / 5 stars     

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