Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Willem Defoe, Sam Trammel, Lotte Verbeek
Plot: Hazel (Woodley) meets outgoing Gus (Elgort) at a Cancer support group and the two of them find themselves instantly and irresistibly attracted to one another.
I have a problem with romance movies. Often, I don’t connect, or particular like, the two romantic leads. The worst case scenario would be Step Up, where both Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan were dull and lifeless. Most of the time, I like one of the characters, but fail to see the charm in their chosen love interest. I understand Domnhall Gleeson’s loveable charm, but don’t get why he is so drawn to cardboard and uptight Rachel McAdams. However, very rarely, do I fall in love with a couple in a movie quite as much as I did with Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.
It would be very easy to classify The Fault in Our Stars as a sad movie. If you didn’t go and see this movie on its release, you most likely know it to be ‘that chick flick based on a book about cancer patients kissing’. You instantly expect it to be a cutesy love story that is hideously ripped apart by cancer. And yes, to an extent, it is those things. I don’t think that classes as a spoiler, because it is in that ugly inevitability that the film gets much of its power from. Happiness, no matter how great, is only fleeting. And when the movie hits its final act, it really does evolve into a tear-jerker. I am not ashamed to say that this movie made me cry for the first time in a very long while. But, The Fault in Our Stars is not about the sadness, or wallowing in the misery of cancer. I took a much lighter meaning from the film, in the fact that the characters here, accept the ending of the movie, or their lives, and live in the glorious euphoria of the moment they are in. This film is at its strongest, when it isn’t trying to make the audience cry, but make them smile. I might not like romantic films, because of the reasons listed above, but that does not mean that I am not a romantic, at heart. I long for the feeling that The Fault in Our Stars has in store for the audience; that big, goofy smile plastered on the audience’s faces that they cannot get rid of, even if they wanted to try.
It would have been very easy for The Fault In Our Stars to be a sad film. Our Sister’s Keeper managed it aptly enough, going for dramatic weight. But Boone’s interest in this novel is centred on the happier moments. I liked how the movie cut through the generic cancer plot points (Hazel Grace herself mocks them in her narration). The movie opens with Hazel Grace Lancaster, already diagnosed with cancer and her life has adjusted around it. The story mines unexpected comedy from the fact that she is dragged along to support groups she doesn’t want nor need and forced to spend time, listening to the wallowing misery thrust upon her by social workers. Enter Augustus Waters, also diagnosed with cancer and determined to not give a damn about it. Ansel Elgort is magnificent in his upbeat depiction of Gus, his swagger and cheek instantly admirable. In fact, for that first act, the cancer seems like an excuse to set this pair up, rather than an ongoing storyline. The Fault in Our Stars stops becoming a movie about cancer and becomes a movie about love-struck teenagers staring at their phones, waiting for a text to come through. In all honesty, I didn’t care too much for the actual story. The trip to Amsterdam on a quest to track down a recluse author had a ‘why not’ air about it, but that didn’t really bother me. It says a lot about the strength of the character development that I can enjoy a film, even if the story does nothing for me. I am having so much fun watching Hazel and Gus playfully start dating that zombies could probably be thrown into the plot and I would still be hanging on their every action and word.
We are getting to that time of the year, where movie critics are trying to guess which movies are going to make it to the OSCARs next year. With some powerful contenders wading into the ring, little thought is spared to those movies that might have been released too early. I doubt the producers of The Fault in Our Stars paid much mind to the award ceremonies at the other end of the year. And why would they? Their lead actress was relatively unknown and the source material could have gone down like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Cute, but hardly unmissable. They probably had no idea that they would be wrong. I hope that Shailene Woodley, at the very least, gets a nomination, because she holds this film together, shouldering the emotional resonance and packing the punch that a film of this topic needs at its helm. She is strong, until those few moments of weakness, which Hazel Grace insists that everyone has in the face of death, and it is there that she shines. Even if the nominations pass her by, she is almost definitely being recognised by other movie producers and directors who can also see the star potential in the actress. The other actor here that I feel compelled to mention, other than Ansel Elgort who I have already complimented on his screen presence, is Laura Dern. She is the mother compensating for almost giving in her on her own daughter on her predicted death bed and even when she smiles, we can see that glimmer of heartbreak behind the eyes. It suggests that it is the smaller details that Boone wins us over with during the running time of this film and while it means that some of the larger plot points miss the mark (the return of Willem Defoe for the finale feels contrived and the ending drags on just a few beats too long), it makes The Fault in Our Stars one of the most heart-warming, heart-breaking movies of the year.
Final Verdict: Rom-com of the year? That is under-selling The Fault in Our Stars. We will be talking about this one for quite some time yet.