Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe
Running Time: 126 min
Release: 19th June
An adaptation of author John Green’s bestselling novel, The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old diagnosed with terminal cancer. While reluctantly attending a cancer support group on her parent’s insistence, she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort); a handsome, charismatic cancer survivor. They quickly fall for each another, and he shows her that she can live a happy, fulfilling life even under the cloud of her illness. But as Hazel knows all too well, their love story probably isn’t going to have a happy ending.
Make no mistake about it; The Fault in Our Stars is a weapons-grade tearjerker, and share prices in Kleenex are likely to skyrocket following its release. And while there are times the film veers dangerously close to mawkishness, it’s saved by the strength of its performances. Woodley excels in the lead role, with Hazel being a strong, cynical teen who slowly emerges from her self-imposed shell as she experiences love for the first time. As a character Gus strays a little too close to Manic Pixie Dream Guy territory, in that he’s endearingly quirky, good looking and prone to whimsy, but Elgort’s performance manages to stay the right side of likable. And it helps that he and Woodley have great chemistry together. Laura Dern also gives a warm performance as Hazel’s eternally optimistic mother, whose cheery demeanour masks her constant anxiety about her daughter’s health.
The script manages to bypass the inherent darkness of the story with breezy humour early on, but once it hits the final act it pretty much ticks all of the classic weepie boxes. The characters keep you engaged during this time, but the film’s constant attempts to wring tears out of you becomes a little exhausting after awhile. Likewise the indie rock soundtrack is ever present, constantly trying to needle your emotions in the right direction, which feels like an unnecessary manipulation. But that said, even the blackest of hearts will find it hard not to get a little choked up as events start to spiral downward.
The script manages to find a good balance between the love story and the tragic elements, but it also feels a little too slavish to its source material. Scenes and dialogue that might have worked on paper feel slightly off when translated to the big screen. A key example of this is a truly bizarre moment where the teen couple visit Anne Frank’s house. The subtext of a teen life tragically cut short is a bit on the nose sure, but the couple then making out as onlookers applaud (and feel good music swells on the soundtrack) just feels downright surreal. There are other examples, and while these moments don’t ruin the movie, the filmmakers might have been better off not sticking so rigidly to the novel.
The Fault in Our Stars is a likeable teen romance, full of great performances and heartfelt drama. The attempts at manipulating the audience’s emotions are a little grating, and the translation from page to screen isn’t always a smooth one, but the movie does more right than wrong. And it’s certainly refreshing to see a summer blockbuster that relies on human emotions, instead of large scale destruction.