In a sea within which we find ourselves awash in adaptations of young adult novels, it’s easy to feel as though you’re drowning among the pretentiousness and insincere cash-grabbing. The Fault in Our Stars is not that kind of film. If it’s anything like the book upon which it’s based (and I’ve heard that it is), then it’s no wonder why it was not only a bestseller but one of the most emotionally touching novels to be published in quite some time. Believe it or not, there won’t be too many negative things for me to mention in this review, which is even more astounding considering that this particular genres of stories is normally not my cup of tea.
The strongest aspect of this movie is the story. The Fault in Our Stars bucks many of the common tropes of its genre’s compatriots. There’s a romance but no hackneyed and forced love triangle. There is conflict and tension but no trite antagonist with weak motivations. And best of all, there are good characters who are intriguing and relatable. Without spoiling anything, the basic plot of the film focuses on the relationship between Hazel and Augustus: two teenagers with cancer who meet at a support group and slowly come to love each other despite the tragic reality of knowing that their time together most likely won’t be long. That’s it, and that’s why it was so good: simplicity!
“First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius.“
Josh Boone’s direction was impressive considering that this was his second film. Thankfully, John Green did most of the work for him by providing him with a good story, but Boone’s ability to bring it to life was done very well. He knew which elements to highlight and focus on, as well as which elements could be tossed out. The focus was kept on the characters, and he really allowed them to simply be these people and let the scenes play out naturally. When adapting a piece that is beloved by so many people so strongly, it must be dealt with very delicately in order to not distort and corrupt what made the source material worthwhile. Josh came through and delivered excellently. This is the movie that’s going to be giving him lots of work in Hollywood for years to come.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the acting, and while I didn’t care for the performances from some of these actors in Divergent, they are given much more opportunity to shine here, especially Shailene Woodley. Other notable performers in this film are Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe. I haven’t seen much of what they’ve done in recent years, so to see them both working again and turning in great performances brightened my day. One actor who stuck out to me and of whom I have high hopes for was Nat Wolff. I looked him up on IMDB, and I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t familiar with anything else he’d done, but regardless, I thought his performance here was as hilarious as it was tragic.
Get to know these faces. I have a feeling they might be sticking around for a while.
As far as entertainment is concerned, this isn’t really that kind of movie, so as needless as it might seem to say, don’t go into The Fault in Our Stars expecting to be watching a “popcorn” movie. And yes, the moments of levity are there to give the audience a break from the tension, but the looming threat of the harsh reality of their situations is ever-present. But sometimes we don’t go to movies to be entertained. Sometimes we just want to be engaged into someone’s life and feel everything she does, warts and all. Warning: if you’re prone to crying at sad movies, you might want to bring some tissues.
Yeah, that will be you.
There are only two factors keeping me from giving this a perfect five, and while one could be considered nitpicking, the other is a bit more unavoidable.
The nitpick comes in how the movie was edited. It’s not the pace or tone that is sets; it’s how quick and jarring the cuts are in certain scenes. Whenever it happened, it felt pretty strange since other parts of the movie played out very naturally and were cut appropriately for the scene, and yet any scene in which the teens are just being teens felt a bit unorganized and slapdash. Was it a stylistic choice to reflect the disorganization of teenage interactions? … Well, that’s the excuse I’d give if I were the editor.
My other complaint is even more subjective, but I think it’s enough to bring the movie down a notch. Ansel Elgort stars opposite Shailene Woodley, and I’m just going to say it, he seems out of his league compared to his costar. Unfortunately for him, they share about 80% of the movie together, so it hangs out there all pink and naked for all to see. To give him credit, his performance got much better in the second half of the movie when his character takes a turn, and his chemistry with Shailene was much better here than it was in Divergent, but up until that point, I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes every time he opened his mouth. His character is supposed to be cocky yet charming. I found him to be pretentious and grating. He ran into similar trouble when he was in Divergent because he didn’t handle his dialogue very well, and most of what he was saying felt very presentational and rehearsed. Once he stopped playing the smart-ass and had his character brought down a couple pegs, he got a lot better, but before then, I couldn’t understand why Hazel [Woodley] would see anything in him.
To bring it home, this is THE date movie of the year and maybe one of the better ones we’ve had in several years. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t normally go for these kinds of movies; there’s a lot to like about The Fault in Our Stars. I was honestly not expecting to find this movie as good as I did, so to my chagrin, I highly recommend going to see it.