THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
SEPTEMBER 16, 2014
Forming a connection with actress Shailene Woodley and her character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is the easy part of “The Fault In Our Stars”. Forming a connection with a couple while constantly being reminded that they have or had cancer, on the other hand, is damn near impossible. Allow me to let you into my mindset as I entered this film. In a theater filled with young teenage girls, I ventured in alone, the only male that was not accompanied by any variation of a female (mother, daughter, girlfriend). Being a very sentimental person, I run a huge chance of getting teary-eyed during emotional dramas, and even the trailer for fellow young adult adaptation “If I Stay” had me swelling with tears. So as I sat through the actual feature, watching Hazel Grace meet Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a cancer support group, falling in love despite the troubles in their lives, and found myself not even close to being choked up in a film about young love and cancer (proclaimed with a louder voice than normal), I knew there had to be something wrong.
Before I go any further, let me be clear. “The Fault In Our Stars” is genuinely entertaining. It captivates, it surprises, and even though I had not read the best-selling John Green novel that it was based on, I still found myself invested. But the problems land in a few different areas. First of all, the greatest cinematic love stories ever told all involve two extremely likable actors with distinct personalities. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. All of these couples are undeniably charismatic with strong chemistry on- and off-screen. Shailene Woodley has that likability, attractive with her off-beat humor and down-to-earth good looks. Her counterpoint, Ansel Elgort, on the other hand, simply does not have the same draw. Elgort lacks the star power and trajectory that those other leading men instilled. His performance is flat, unable to be as suave or even close to the same level as his partner, and seeing him with Woodley is uninspiring and the most depressing part of the film.
Another problem with the film is that it is constantly drawing attention to the fact that the characters are suffering from cancer. As Hazel’s parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) walk on eggshells around her, all I could hear from their mouths was “cancer, cancer, cancer”. Trust me when I tell you there is no way a teenager can live a normal life when someone is constantly reminding them of their condition. Along the way, Make A Wish becomes a large subplot driving the film and that again continues to club the viewer over the head with what these teens suffer from. Do not get me wrong, cancer is serious and it is what sets this story apart from other young love adaptations. But other films have done it better, more specifically, Nicholas Sparks and his novel adaptation “A Walk To Remember” starring Shane West and Mandy Moore. Very similar to this film, Moore’s character has leukemia. As the couple falls in love, the leukemia is slowly introduced, with subplots like ugly duckling turned swan and the bucket list playing key parts in the narrative. Leukemia becomes a catalyst that threatens to tear this bright future apart. In “The Fault In Our Stars” we are born with the threat, live some menial life events with it, and eventually meet our demise with it. In an analogy used with a friend, I stated, it is the equivalent of someone jabbing you in the side with their finger through the entire run-time of the movie, constantly reminding you that this couple has cancer. What happens to them is hardly heard over that noise.
Badgering aside, Woodley shines like the glowing star that she is, carrying the entire film on her shoulders. Bringing a cute and sometimes humorous element to the role, Hazel Grace is the girl that you want to meet and fall madly in love with. Having not read the book, Willem Dafoe’s role as author Peter van Houten was a nice surprise, as his cynical nature and closed off demeanor counters his electronic correspondence with Hazel and the expectations the viewer collects in anticipation for their meeting. Van Houten’s change of heart is the most moving portion of the film and again, for a film about cancer-ladened young love, the fact that a sixty-year-old grouch evokes the most emotional part of the film is saying something. The entire trip to Amsterdam is rather moving, especially when Hazel faces the stairs of the Anne Frank House. The eventual reveal and change of fortune in Amsterdam is rather telegraphed, a twist that I saw coming from a mile away, and adds for a much different third act, which feels forced and feels like cheating the audience out of the ending they deserve. However, with a decent soundtrack backing it up, including Kodaline and Charlie XCX, “The Fault In Our Stars” may not have brought tears to my eyes, but as far as young adult novel adaptations go, it has enough going for it to be at least minimally entertain.
June 6, 2014
Michael H. Weber
“The Fault In Our Stars”
by Josh Green
20th Century Fox
(for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language)