The Fault in Our Stars, 2014
Directed by Josh Boone
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, and Willem Dafoe
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.
Anyone who has been through the unbearable tragedy of losing someone close to you to the evil that is cancer and knows the inexplicable pain one goes through will be moved by The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a movie that nails the torture, the passion and the emotion. But it’s also about hope and it’s about leading a life to its fullest, even if it’s a short one.
Simply put, The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful movie.
It has been hailed as the surprise hit of the summer after its weekend box office takings trumped that of the Tom Cruise sci-fi epic Edge of Tomorrow. Costing just $12 million to make, the movie has made $81 million after only two weeks. However, some speculate that the movie reached its limit after two days as the most recent weekend box office numbers showed that interest has dropped by 67% compared to its opening weekend.
The above numbers don’t really matter here though.
Hollywood number crunchers can sit here and debate the merit of making a movie like The Fault in Our Stars versus a multi-million dollar movie with a bankable star, but at the end of the day what really matters is the story it’s telling. And in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, it’s a fantastic story.
Based on the John Green novel of the same name, The Fault in Our Stars centres around cancer-sufferer Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and her friendship with cancer-survivor Gus (Ansel Elgort). The pair meet through a cancer-support group (led by an under-utilised Mike Birbiglia) and as their friendship starts to grow, so do their feelings for each other. But while Gus is open to taking a chance on them, Hazel is cagey due to her incredibly poor health.
The success of The Fault in Our Stars lies squarely on the shoulders of Woodley and Elgort. The pair (who played siblings in Divergent) have a dynamic and disgustingly cute chemistry which makes you fall for both of them almost instantly. There is something rather grating about Gus’ character with his irritating outlook on life and hateable metaphors, but Elgort turns him into an incredibly likeable character and he cares so much for the easy-to-like Hazel that he’ll steal your heart. Their relationship doesn’t feel forced, their reactions always feel genuine and it’s nice to see a teen drama that doesn’t treat it audience like they’re morons with spoon-fed dialogue like the Hunger Games or Twilight movies. The movie treats its subject matter – and therefore its audience – like adults.
The supporting cast also do a great job in selling this tragic-yet-sweet love story with Laura Dern pulling out a career best as Hazel’s mother. Several moments in the movie require no dialogue and Dern sells all of her pain and emotion through her actions, each one of them more torturous than the last. On more than one occasion you will want to reach through the screen and give her a hug. Nat Wolff does the best with what he can as Gus’ best friend Isaac and it’s amazing to see how much Wolff gets from the character, especially since he has about as much screen time as Hazel has years to live.
Sadly though, for all its flawless performances, there are a few things that hold The Fault in Our Stars back from being flawless itself. Despite the seriousness of its story and the earnestness of its performances, Josh Boone makes some unforgiveable directorial decisions, the most notable being text messages displayed on screen like a low-end episode of Hollyoaks. It wouldn’t be so bad but they are hand-drawn cartoonish bubbles with stars around them which completely nullifies all emotion in the text. And while his performance is solid, the scenes with Willem Dafoe do nothing but bring the movie to a screeching halt. Perhaps Van Houten played a bigger role in the source material in terms of character building, but his cameo here seems fairly fruitless – even if all the scenes building up to it were among the best of the movie.
There is also a Mighty Ducks-style slow clap that takes all emotion from a beautiful scene. It’s more laughable than anything else.
Usually when reviewing movies based off a novel, you can almost guarantee the words “fans of the book will enjoy it” falling from your lips but that is not the case with The Fault in Our Stars. This is a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone who has a beating heart. You will ride with smiles during its highs and wipe away tears during its lows. It can be over-the-top and a bit heavy-handed at times, but The Fault in Our Stars is a very powerful and gorgeous movie.
If all teen romance movies could be as good (or even half as good) as The Fault in Our Stars, the genre would be given a lot more credibility and beating $170 million dollar sci-fi blockbusters wouldn’t seem so surprising.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
Listen to our interview with Nat Wolff here.