The Fault in Our Stars (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Josh Boone, and starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Mike Birbiglia, Emily Peachey, Amber Myers, Milica Govich, Allegra Carpenter, Johanna McGinley, Wyatt McClure, and Camera Chatham Bartolotta.
The film adaptation of John Green’s beloved YA novel “The Fault in Our Stars” is sure to drain oceans of tears from its target audience, but does it have what it takes to satisfy the rest of us?
Yes. A thousand times yes. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who penned the wonderful (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now) and director Josh Boone have crafted one of the most earnest, beautiful love stories of our generation.
The setup almost seems like a cheap shot. Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer (grab your first tissue). Hazel claims she’s not depressed by her diagnosis, but all she does is isolate herself reading the same book over and over again. Her only companion is the oxygen tank that she must carry with her wherever she goes. At the request of her mother (Laura Dern), Hazel reluctantly attends a support group, where she mostly just sits and listens to everyone else’s story (the patients at the group are played by actual teenage cancer patients). One day, a new face arrives at the meeting, and it’s one that Hazel can’t miss as it’s always staring right at her. That would be Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort), who is now cancer-free (though he had to have his leg amputated to become so) and is attending only to support his friend, Isaac (Nat Wolff). Gus comes off as a little creepy at first, staring at and lingering around the skeptical Hazel. However, his winning attitude and charm appeals to Hazel and she begins a friendship with him.
Hazel and Gus have similar personalities, but they apply them to different beliefs. Gus longs to live a life worth remembering not just by his family, but by everyone. His biggest fear is “oblivion” – that nobody will know he existed once he’s gone. Hazel is much more practical. She doesn’t romanticize the idea of being remembered, but rather acknowledges that eventually the Earth will come to an end and everyone – even the universally famous – will be forgotten. Together, these conflicting teens make each other more complete individuals and it’s not long before their friendly feelings turn into something more.
The Fault in Our Stars could have been easy, manipulative drivel like a Nicholas Sparks‘ adaptation. The inherently sad premise combined with the built-in audience gave director Josh Boone a chance to just phone it in and make something cheap for a quick buck. But Boone obviously loved the source material too much to do it such an injustice, and so he leaves the schmaltz at the door and makes us connect with these characters on a deep, emotional level. That’s not to say TFIOS is without schmaltz, but Boone is so sincere and actors Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are so superb together, that those moments are forgiven.
Woodley has proven herself as an acting force already (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now), and TFIOS solidifies her status as a true star. No role is too daunting for the fearless Woodley, who plays Hazel with utmost honesty. We feel her happiness and her sadness as though it were our own. Most importantly, she doesn’t make us feel sad for her because she has cancer; She makes us empathize with her as an ordinary girl who has fallen in love. The real surprise comes from the somewhat newcomer Ansel Elgort (who appeared opposite Woodley earlier this year as her brother in Divergent). Elgort doesn’t play Gus as smarmy and cocky, but rather effortlessly confident. We fall for his charms much sooner than Hazel does. No offense to the handsome Elgort, but he’s not an immediately obvious choice to be the romantic male lead in a YA adaptation. Typically, those with chiseled features and biceps the size of watermelons get those parts. But Elgort is a normal looking guy, so it’s his genuine ability that we fall for, and not his six-pack.
Woodley and Elgort create a love on screen that will make the more cynical of us feel a warmth in our heart. You know how when you’re in public and you see a couple being overly sappy and sweet to each other and it makes you want to gag? Well with Hazel and Gus, you just want to watch and admire. It’s not all sunshine, happiness, and rainbows, as you can imagine when both characters have a history with cancer, but this makes the investment in their relationship even stronger. We want to see the hard times and we want to see how they deal with it.
The Fault in Our Stars is so much more than a cancer-romance. It’s a beautiful, funny, and heart-breaking rumination on mortality and love, anchored by two of the finest performances seen this year. Bring a box of tissues to the theater and don’t be afraid to let yourself be overcome with emotion. This is a rare romance that actually deserves your tears.
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