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The Fault In Our Stars – Review
June 19, 2014
I’ll be honest: what ultimately got me interested in The Fault In Our Stars back when the transition from the written page to the silver screen was first announced is something that rarely gets the headlines in Hollywood. I’m talking about the film’s screenwriters. Their names may be obscure to the masses but their credits will ring the bell. Trust me when I say that this unstoppable teen phenomenon with easy-on-the-eye stars able to induce heart attacks in hoards of adoring fans got lucky to wind up in the teen-expert hands of Scott Neudstadter and Michael H. Weber aka the scribes who exploded on the cinematic scene in 2009 with their original indie debut sensation 500 Days Of Summer and then made an impressive come back last year with the underrated yet outstanding The Spectacular Now, another brilliant teen novel adaptation which criminally and inexplicably so, still lacks theatrical release in the UK…
Despite being a sappy person at heart, I’ve developed that certain amount of cynicism and disillusionment one inevitably encounters whilst becoming an adult and in my case, maybe, even a bit more than the average. Yet, I can’t help being emotionally affected by poignantly moving storytelling. I’m not going to shy away from my feelings and if I need to cry in a big room full of strangers I won’t hide my tears to avoid looking unmanly. Heck, I actually adore the catharsis that cinema brings. It’s my favorite part of the experience. Well, unless a story has been meticulously designed to manipulate my feelings in a cheap, exploitative way. That’s often the case with teen films built around a romance that’s doomed because one of the two halves is terminally ill and most likely has kept it a secret from his/her counterpart. Imagine then my level of skepticism when I first heard about The Fault In Our Stars, even more so due to its literary origins that already hailed as some sort of teen Nicholas Sparks wannabe.
I’m glad to immediately clear any doubt and confess how happy I am to have been proven utterly wrong not just by reading John Green’s masterful source material but especially after watching its cinematic adaptation, ‘cause let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have been difficult for Hollywood to fuck this up in spectacular fashion. They do that on a regular basis in the name of big bucks. This time around though they were dealing with a text that transcends any imaginably typical fandom-related reverie. This isn’t a book about vampires or wizards. Everything is grounded in reality and painfully so. This isn’t a franchise. It’s a self-contained emotional journey about the power of love and the meaning of life where every tear you’re going to shed is not meant to just aim at your wallet but more than anything at your heart.
Author John Green has pointed out how the typical sick-kid love story narrative is about one sick kid and one healthy kid and that the healthy kid learns an important lesson on how to be grateful for every day from the sick kid and that’s the reason why the sick kid exists. He didn’t want to tell that story and so finally after many years he found these two kids, Hazel and Augustus, who have very different ideas of what constitutes a well lived life, with very different world views in lots of different ways but who are brought together by their love for each other and their love for a book.
Now, for those unfamiliar with the text and maybe tempted to let their cynicism win, The Fault In Our Stars revolves around a couple of teenage cancer survivors, Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus “Gus” Waters, (Ansel Elgort) who meet at a support group and fall victim of another kind of illness, the love-at-first-sight fever. I know what you’re thinking: my glucose levels are already spiking dangerously. Well, slow down turbo! Don’t come to rushed conclusions. What could’ve easily been the premise for yet another diabetes-inducing fluff of Hollywood molasses is actually a smart, humorous and eventually uplifting meditation on what matters the most in life, where nothing gets sugarcoated, reality bites and characters feel real and raw even despite the stars’ teen vogue aura. While Gus, who lost one leg to osteosarcoma, has been cancer-free for a while now, Hazel is still at risk with her lung tumors. She has to live with an oxygen tank by her side and a cannula in her nostrils in order to breathe properly and calls herself a grenade that will eventually obliterate everyone around her hence her wish to keep the casualties to the minimum. But Gus isn’t a quitter and surely isn’t scared of getting involved, even if it means getting hurt. After all, their instant bond and chemistry is undeniable. These two are a match for each other’s wit and their banter is irresistible.
Something that brings Hazel and Gus closer than ever in no time is Hazel’s obsession with An Imperial Affliction, a (fictitious) novel about a girl with cancer which ends abruptly since it’s written as the protagonist’s diary and she probably died or got too sick to continue writing it. Hazel admires the narrative device but is frustrated at not knowing the fate of the other characters in the book. She has written to Peter Van Houten, the (fictitious) author, several times in order to obtain some answers but to no avail. When Gus gets obsessed with the book as well, he manages to get a hold of the author’s assistant via email. The man has never written again after that novel and he’s moved to Amsterdam where he lives as a recluse. Van Houten (played brilliantly by the amazing Willem Dafoe) replies via his assistant that he could never reveal that information in written form but would only do it in person. Gus then decides to use his yet unutilized cancer wish to take Hazel to Amsterdam. Needless to say the trip is a huge turning point in the blooming of their challenged romance but also in their coming of age.
Director Josh Boone is at his second feature film here after his lively 2012 debut, Stuck In Love, a romantic comedy he also wrote. He surely has the right sensibility to handle the tone of this material and seems to be without a doubt an actors’ director. Yet his task is definitely made easier by a wonderful cast of outstanding veterans such as the brilliant Laura Dern and Sam Trammell (Hazel’s parents) and mesmerizing young stars on the rise. After stealing the scene in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now and even taking a blockbuster break with Divergent, Shaileene Woodley is on track to become the next Jennifer Lawrence on your radars. Her raw talent and the generosity of her performance are astounding. Ansel Elgort has barely started but he’s already made an impression as the only thing worth remembering from last year’s uninspired Carrie remake. Here, he absolutely kills it as Augustus Waters with a mix of fun, charm and vulnerability that added to his to-die-for looks make him the up and comer to watch. Last but not least in the youngsters department is Nat Wolff who plays Isaac, Hazel and Gus’ blind friend from the support group who flawlessly acts as the comic relief with consummated bravura and whose face you’ll most definitely see around more and more.
There is no fault in the rising stars of Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Just as the written characters leap off the pages of the YA literary phenomenon, these two young thespians leap off the screen, literally owning the cinematic versions of those popular characters. The same thing is true for the script by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter who confirm to be the go-to wizards of young adult adaptations. If you think this is just another Lifetime TV movie, think again. This is actually a worthy cinematic version of an overly popular novel that will satisfy hard-core fans as much as gain new ones. After all, this is a powerful celebration of what it means to be alive and human. Have your tissues ready but rest assured you’ll leave the theatre feeling uplifted.
The Fault In Our Stars is out in UK cinemas
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor