'The Fault In Our Stars' Is Worthy Of All Your Tears
There's one major point that everyone has been driving home about watching The Fault in Our Stars: you'll need a box of tissues with you while you quietly weep in the theater. However, this melodrama is more than just your average Romeo-and-Juliet tearjerker geared towards the YA market—at its core, it's a film about dealing with cancer.
Although director Josh Boone's (Stuck in Love) faithful adaption of the best-selling John Green novel was certainly made to tug at your heart strings, it doesn't come off as sappy or sentimental. It discusses mortality in way that offers a more thoughtful and mature narrative than what's been pitched to the YA crowd as of late (ahem...Twilight).
And besides the narrative, one of the reasons we're able to be immersed in this world of cancer patients, survivors, friends and family members, is largely due to the legitimately talented and charming young cast members—namely Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort (who both starred in Divergent). Woodley's character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is a 16-year-old with metastatic thyroid cancer who dubs herself as "the Keith Richards of cancer kids." Her hair is cropped short, she wears no makeup and has tubes up her nose hooked up to an oxygen tank she lugs around with her wherever she goes. Hazel once survived a near-death experience at the age of 13 until a "miracle treatment" saved her. And it's left her brooding and full of cynical comments, but it's not overwhelming—it just feels like she's just telling it like it is. She's raw, strong and vulnerable. It's one of Woodley's strongest performances yet.
Her doting parents (Sam Trammell and Laura Dern) convince her to join a cancer support group headed by a Jesus-loving cancer survivor (Mike Birbiglia). Enter teen heartthrob, 18-year-old Augustus "Gus" Waters (Elgort), whose dashingly good looks are paired with a smirk with a cigarette (always unlit) dangling from his lips. Gus, who once was a rising basketball player, lost part of his leg to cancer and now has a prosthetic. His only fear is oblivion and is dead set on making a mark in the world. He's unabashedly upbeat and unapologetic about his confidence—pretty much the exact opposite of Hazel.
While Hazel's favorite novel is one about cancer, Imperial Affliction, Gus' is his beloved video game, Insurgent 2. However, he's willing to read Hazel's book, happy to text and call her all day long and get her to go on some new adventures. He's basically the male equivalent to the manic pixie dream girl (à la Natalie Portman in Garden State or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown). Elgort's character isn't nearly as deep or complex as Woodley's, but he plays it with such ease; charisma is just dripping off of him. He manages to toe the line of being cocky without being annoying.
And as much as we'd hate to admit it, Gus is swoon-worthy. The chemistry between Gus and Hazel is undeniable, and their relationship is the most easy-going one we've seen in a teen romance. It's a slow-moving one and well-paced at that.
The sharp script is penned by scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. In the same way as the duo did with 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now, they manage to tell a type of story relatively different from romantic tropes with some witty and poignant dialogue exchanges. Lines like "The only thing that bites worse than having cancer is having a kid with cancer" are delivered as a by Hazel as a voiceover narrative in the film. And it is indeed a difficult task to talk about cancer in such a way that it doesn't feel completely exploitative as a means to get audiences to cry. They've managed to succeed in telling the story in a smart way that it doesn't teeter over that line.
However, this film does have some faults of its own, too. Gus arranges a trip to Amsterdam through Make-A-Wish for Hazel so she can meet Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author of Imperial Affliction, and ask him all of her burning questions—like why his novel ended mid-sentence. While on one hand this trip allows room for the two's relationship to blossom with some intimate moments, it's meeting Peter that is one of the most jarring moments in the film. Their exchange with the man, who turns out to be a drunken recluse, is bitter as he lashes out at them. It seems to come out of the blue and also disrupts the general tone of the movie. And when Hazel and Gus visit the Anne Frank House while a voiceover plays over the film with passages from her diary, it's all a bit too much. The filmmakers try too hard at this point to connect the Holocaust to cancer—it feels like they're trying to jam too much into the story.
Though, it's hard not to get sucked into their world and care for these likeable characters. We can't argue against the fact that The Fault in Our Stars has a genuine message about strength and love. Get your tissues ready.