The Fault in Our Stars (2014) Directed by Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern. IMDB says: “Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.”
It’s tough to pick up John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars and not get immediately sucked in. The characters are deeply engaging, the struggle with cancer explained eloquently, and with humor quite intact. I cried for much of it, but as much as I was moved, I also laughed and smiled through the charm and romance. Green’s writing is very particular, with the main characters, Hazel and Augustus, speaking quite unusually with witty quips and deep observations. On the page, the words sing, but I was very curious how actors could pull it off convincingly. There’s also the fear that a very down to earth story could be turned into straight up schmaltz a la Nicholas Sparks. Luckily for book readers and newcomers alike, this is not the case.
The film begins with our narrator and lead Hazel (Woodley) quickly catching you up to speed with the details of her life. She lives a quite insular one, dealing with her years-long battle with terminal cancer alongside her parents (a wonderful pairing of Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) and not many others. Upon her mother’s insistence to go to a (truly corny) support group, she meets a person who seems to get her immediately in a way you sense not many people do. Augustus (Elgort) has recovered from his bout with cancer after losing his right leg below the knee. Once they click, they become inseparable despite Hazel’s deep concerns about leaving the people she cares about behind.
Woodley and Elgort are an interesting couple even before you factor in their health issues. They’re funny kids falling in love for the first time. It’s fun to watch unfold in the moments Faults is lighthearted. The thing is, they are facing situations on their own that few could truly relate to, but everyone can sympathize with. It’s unbearably sad at certain points of the film, and I’ll shamelessly admit I was in tears for more than half. When I wasn’t bawling, I was at least teared up.
The thing is, this movie doesn’t go for cheap shots or manufactured sadness. The story unfolds organically, and what makes you sad is deeply human and earnestly felt by everyone on screen. When Woodley breaks down in tears or her parents panic over false alarms it feels real. I didn’t catch a bit of inauthenticity or forcefulness in any performance. It makes simple moments effecting. Woodley and Elgort deserve so much praise for their work here. Not only is the chemistry there, but they can do well everything that’s in this script – the jokes, teenage awkwardness, emotional breakdowns, even the physical ailments.
All involved have done a great job adapting this wonderful novel without feeling like it’s using the book as an outline of scenes it must hit. The story stands on its own in the film, bringing to life what Green has so touchingly written. It can be emotionally draining, but what a wonderful thing for a film to make you feel so intensely.