I usually don’t expect much from books or movies geared towards the “young adult” crowd, so I was shocked by how much I enjoyed The Fault in our Stars, a film about two teenage cancer patients fighting death and falling in love. This is one of the best romance stories I’ve ever seen and it is as smart and inspiring as it is heart-breaking.
This film is based on the very popular novel of the same name, by John Green, and is directed by Josh Boone (Stuck in Love.) It’s an age-old story about people facing their mortality and learning how to really live; but it is so much more than that standard cliché. With witty dialogue and excellent acting, The Fault in our Stars explores love, commitment, loss and the meaning of life in a way that is entertaining, thought-provoking, funny and gut-wrenching – all at the same time.
The story is about a guy, Gus (Ansel Elgort), and a girl, Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley), who meet each other at a support group for cancer patients. Some in the group have terminal illness, and others are working on recovery. I immediately loved Hazel, but Gus (and Elgort) took a while for me to warm up to. Initially the character (and actor) came across as smarmy and conceded, and he gave me that same sick feeling I get when I see Justin Bieber wink at the television cameras, but by the end of the movie I loved this guy.
Hazel and Gus come from two very different places regarding their sickness and how they deal with it. Gus was a high-school sports star and he is determined to make his mark on the world, while Hazel Grace’s main concern is to not be a burden on her parents, even after she is gone from this world. The movie handles the complex thoughts and emotions of these kids in a way that feels organic and realistic, (although there is a little Hollywood melodrama thrown in at times.)
The Fault in our Stars follows the fledgling love between its too main characters, but has a subplot regarding Hazel’s favorite novel and author, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. (No, this book does not really exist, although you may wish it did.) The young couple tries to travel to Amsterdam to meet the author (played by Willem Dafoe) and have him answer the questions stemming from his novel.
I normally dislike films in which the young people are the smartest ones in the movie and where they speak like mature and enlightened adults, but The Fault in our Stars pulls off this trick without a hitch and it was a genuine pleasure to hear its words spoken with a literary tint.
I also typically hate the use of modern technology when telling a story, but this film seamlessly uses text-messaging and email to advance the plot in an unobtrusive manner. (I guess at this point I might as well get used to it.)
The inner strength conveyed by the characters in this movie is admirable, as are the performances of the actors portraying them. In particular, Shailene Woodley as Hazel delivers an Oscar worthy achievement. We’ll see if she is still remembered come awards season.
There is also great music throughout this movie, from the likes of Ray LaMontagne, and the English singer-songwriter known as “Birdy.” If a hardened soul like mine can enjoy this film as much as I did, its target audience is sure to eat it up. This is one of the best movies so far this year and it is strongly recommended. Grade: 8.5/10
Photos © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film