The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
“One sick love story”
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
Synopsis: Two teens, both with different cancer conditions, fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
I suppose those closest to death have the keenest sense of the value of life, and that sense must be magnified even further for those who fall prey to a terminal illness while still in their teens. Early death is a subject which can’t help but be emotive, but too often it’s cheapened in movies by fake sentiment and cynical manipulation of the audience’s emotions. It would have been easy for Josh Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars to follow that disease-of-the-week style of story-telling, especially as it’s difficult for a plot about dying teenagers to be anything but formulaic, but thanks to an insightful screenplay that portrays its teens as individuals who aren’t defined merely by their illness, the movie rises above such pitfalls. It might not depict the ugly reality of a terminal illness in any kind of realistic detail, but The Fault in Our Stars isn’t about the illness – it’s about the people who have it, and how they cope with the knowledge that they have little chance of enjoying the span of life that most of us takes for granted.
It’s narrated by Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley – The Descendants, Divergent), a smart, intelligent 17-year-old whose Stage 4 thyroid cancer is being held at bay by an experimental drug treatment, and who is in constant need of oxygen from a portable bottle. While attending a self-help group to please her mother (Laura Dern) she strikes up a friendship with Augustus (Ansel Elgort – Carrie, Divergent), a confident and charismatic young man whose own cancer, which claimed one of his legs, is currently in remission. Over time, Hazel and Gus fall for one another, but she is reluctant to pursue her feelings, knowing that in all likelihood she will die within a few years.
Serious illness often bestows upon its victims a previously unsuspected inner fortitude, making them stronger characters as a result. Hazel has a confidence and determination; Gus welcomes every day as an opportunity to pursue his ambition to live an extraordinary life. They click in a way they might not have had they not fallen victim to their respective illnesses, and this shared past colours their futures. Despite this, the movie makes them extraordinary individuals in spite of – and not because of – those illnesses. Hazel, in particular, possesses a rare intelligence which, in a way, is necessary for the other components of the plot – including an obsession with a reclusive author which leads to an inner revelation – to be believable. Whether that makes her something more than your average teen is debatable, but it’s to the film’s credit that her character remains grounded in the real world.
Woodley and Elgort – who play sister and brother in Divergent – mesh well, each giving likeable performances and developing a chemistry together that makes their inevitable departure all the more poignant. Given the one scene of high emotion we do see – which, to be honest, is a rare and glaring miscalculation on the part of Boone – it’s perhaps fortunate that The Fault in Our Stars tends to avoid such moments, opting instead for a matter-of-factness about key developments that chart the decline of key characters. The performance of Elgort – who’s reminiscent of a young Jeff Bridges – follows a gentle descent from youthful energy and charm to a weary resignation without us even realising until he reveals to Hazel that his illness has returned. Only when we look back, does the gradual adjustment in Elgort’s performance become apparent.
The Fault in Our Stars isn’t merely a teen movie – it’s a movie about teens which adults can appreciate. And while it isn’t without its flaws, the positive aspects of the movie far outweigh the negative.
(Reviewed 8th May 2015)