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Review: The Fault in Our Stars

June 11, 2014

By John Corrado

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Fault in Our Stars Poster

Even amongst the massive landscape of books that fall into the increasingly lucrative Young Adult bracket, few novels have had the lasting impact and unlikely popularity of author John Green’s 2012 bestseller The Fault in Our Stars.

This love story between two teens who fall in love through their cancer support group has become iconic in the Young Adult landscape, and I think teenagers are relating to the profound emotion of the story as a way to cathartically channel their own anxieties and fears.

It’s no surprise then that the big screen adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars opened atop the box office last weekend.  This is the first genuine tearjerker of 2014, and the film will continue to play well throughout the summer with audiences wanting human drama instead of blockbuster action.  It’s also one of the finest movies of the year so far.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is just trying to live a normal teenaged life, but she is slowly dying of thyroid cancer, and has to cart around an oxygen tank to keep her lungs working properly.  When her mother (Laura Dern) has her diagnosed with depression, Hazel reluctantly joins a support group.  There she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a charming cancer survivor who lost his leg to the disease, and is there to support his best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff), who is going blind.

After literally bumping into each other, Hazel and Gus find themselves bonding through her favourite novel, An Imperial Affliction.  Although the two start falling in love, Hazel is reluctant to pursue a relationship, afraid of burdening another person with her illness.  But things take a different turn when they have an opportunity to travel to Amsterdam, where they might finally meet the reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe).

I read the source novel over a year ago, and will admit to having found some of John Green’s prose a little overwritten at the time, with his distinctive writing style making the characters seem more pretentious in the book.  But screenwriters Scott Neaustadter and Michael H. Weber, who also wrote the great (500) Days of Summer and did a wonderful job with last year’s adaptation of The Spectacular Now, have streamlined this same text into something truly special.

Take the famous and widely discussed scene at the Anne Frank House for example, which threatened to become exploitative in the book, but ends up being one of the most blindingly powerful sequences in the film.  Poignantly using background narration from Anne Frank’s diary, we watch as Hazel struggles to climb the increasingly steep steps, which makes the culminating moment seem appropriately cathartic and never cheap, providing one of several unforgettable scenes.

Maybe it’s just the headspace I was in when reading the book, or perhaps I should read it again, but the story actually affected me more onscreen than on the page.  By removing a few arguably needless scenes and subplots, and tightening up the dialogue, director Josh Boone has delivered the rare big screen adaptation that in some ways exceeds the literary counterpart.  I was moved by this film, and I think this is partially thanks to the brilliant acting, something you obviously don’t get in the book.

This is a film where the performances elevate the material to an even higher level.  Shailene Woodley is pitch perfect throughout every note of her performance, with each facial expression and small nuance breathing life into this character.  Every choice she makes as an actress here is beautiful, and the way that she holds back tears before letting them flow freely is enough to make the audience choke up right alongside her.  Ansel Elgort is also excellent, using the theatrical persona of Augustus as a way to mask the character’s pain, a facade that is heartbreakingly pulled back throughout the film.

Laura Dern turns in a moving supporting performance as a mother who is desperately trying to hide her own grief, so that her daughter doesn’t have to bear any more pain.  Nat Wolff provides some surprisingly good comic relief, and Willem Dafoe is brilliant and deeply affecting in his few pivotal scenes.  The soundtrack offers a good selection of pop songs that were written for the film and should be cherished by fans, culminating with the lovely Ed Sheeran track “All of the Stars.”

The film does deal with death and wanting to be remembered in an honest and very sad way, and I found it hard not to tear up during several scenes.  But The Fault in Our Stars is also life affirming, celebrating the power of love and human connection, even if these lives threaten to be cut tragically short.  This is a deeply moving film that earns our emotion through powerful performances from Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who makes us genuinely care about these two star crossed lovers.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2014 4:30 pm

    I enjoyed your review… good job critiquing each actor’s performance! Since you compare the movie to the original book, you may want to consider entering this post in my “Books vs. Movies Contest” for a chance to win a movie gift card! http://wp.me/P4enVm-Q

    Whether you enter the contest or not, though, I enjoyed your post…have a good one!

    Like

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