Main cast: Shailene Woodley (Hazel Grace Lancaster), Ansel Elgort (Augustus Waters), Laura Dern (Frannie Lancaster), Sam Trammell (Michael Lancaster), Nat Wolff (Isaac), and Willem Dafoe (Peter van Houten)
Director: Josh Boone
The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s bestselling novel of the same name, is all about cancer and romance. Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16, has thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs and required her to take the experimental drug Phalanxitor (a made-up drug that doesn’t exist outside this story, by the way). She is currently fine, but she’s also depressed, according to her parents and her doctor. They make her attend a support group at a church, and she’s all “Oh! I’m too cynical for this kind of thing!” until Augustus Waters shows up one day. They fall in love, but he too has cancer – osteosarcoma that has already taken away his right leg. They don’t have much time together, but they want to star in their own Korean tearjerker-style melodrama, so they decide to head over to Amsterdam to discover what the author of Grace’s favorite book has in mind for an ending of the book. The book is a literary-style epic of a leukemia patient’s experiences, and ends in mid-sentence as Anna was about to die, you see, and Grace wants to get some closure for the story before she too leaves this world.
Oh boy, where do I start? No, I’m not going to go into a knee-jerk rant about how the book is always better than the film – that’s so clichéd, so please, darling. It’s just that the script – written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber – feels compressed, and the result is a disjointed film. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with some big pieces missing. The remaining pieces show a lovely scenery, but the scenery is never intact and hence, I’m frustrated, if you get what I’m trying to say here. The movie is structured like a typical sappy Hallmark tearjerker, despite the fact that the material it is based on is anything but exploitative and overly sentimental, so there is often a dissonance between what the characters say and do and the abundance of trite and banal set up in this story. The characters relapse and it rains just when I would expect them to in a more crappy by-the-book film, for example, when at the same time these characters say and feel things that are above such nonsense. The scriptwriters seemed to labor under the assumption that John Green’s story is more vapid than it actually is.
Unsurprisingly, Augustus Waters comes off pretty badly in this movie. He’s downgraded even more here into Hazel’s reward for having cancer. Everything he says and does is for her, to make her happy. The movie hides most of his personal emotions and thoughts, to the point that he seems to exist only to cater to Hazel’s wants and wishes without having any ambition or personal desires of his own. It also doesn’t help that he is played by Ansel Elgort. He has a very nice smile, I have to say, but he subscribes to the Ashton Kutcher school of method acting – he constantly smiles in an effort to hide the fact that his line delivery is often wooden and he is displaying the acting ability of a pretty tree stump. I can’t help thinking that Nat Wolff, who plays Gus’s best friend, may have made a better Gus than this fellow.
Shailene Woodley does far better as Hazel, as she manages to strike the perfect balance of defensive cynicism and raw vulnerability when playing her character. I find myself emotionally invested in her character, and Ms Woodley effortlessly makes me cry like a twit when she wants to. I find a lot of things about this movie sappy and corny, and many of the most melodramatic lines don’t work in this movie as much as they do in the book (they sound really scripted when spoken aloud), but I still have my heart strings tugged at the expected moments. This, I believe, is mostly due to Ms Woodley’s performance.
At the end of the day, I do like The Fault in Our Stars for its treatment of the subject of loss and grief. As someone who has lost many people to cancer, I can relate to the sentiments expressed by the characters in this movie. I appreciate how there is no sugarcoating of cancer, and how the movie comes out and say that, sometimes, it’s okay to be angry, feel that you are dealt with an unfair hand, or succumb to despair without being reprimanded for “being negative”. What is more important here is coming to terms with the inevitable finality, finding strength and even peace in this to live – on our own terms, god willing – while we can. And the cancer patient’s support network should understand this and provide emotional support the best it could. The most powerful scenes in this movie reflect all this.
It’s just a shame that these things only come out strong despite the best intentions of the script to sink the film into a morass of melodrama and cheap sentimentality more typical of a film based on Nicholas Sparks’s efforts. The base material – and me in the audience – deserves better than this.