Movie Review: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

Fault in Our Stars Review
Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley star in 'The Fault in Our Stars' (Photo Credit: James Bridges- TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Apparently, I just need to keep going to movies based on books that were adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. That was a fair bit of qualifying but they did write The Pink Panther 2 … nobody’s perfect. However, they penned the scripts for (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now, and the recently released, The Fault in Our Stars. Loyal readers know I went head over heels for Summer and Spectacular … and sorry to ruin any surprise (if that was even possible) but I may be on my way to crushing on The Fault in Our Stars.

Originally a novel by John Green, the movie tells the story of Hazel and Augustus, played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. If you’ve seen Divergent, you may be used to these two playing siblings but have no fear, this isn’t some backwoods Kentucky tale (sorry KY, it was you or West Virginia … damn, just insulted another state … you’re both pretty? There, fixed.). On one level, it’s your typical sappy teen love story. Of course, that these teens have been battling cancer for years adds a layer of complexity you won’t find in the town of Forks.

The movie is told from Hazel’s perspective and things being what they are when each day could be your last, it heightens every little gesture and moment between everyone in the movie. One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re a big softie, you probably want to bring some Kleenex. Like, a lot of Kleenex. I’m hardcore, so I went without tissues … and simply let the tears fall down my face and tried not to wipe too much snot on my sleeve. I know, I know. I’m adorable.

Of course, none of that comes as a surprise. This is a movie about teenagers with cancer. If you thought they were going to just recite the works of Mel Brooks, your delusions are getting worse and I think you should seek help. And there’s no getting around it, the big C looms over the entire picture like a dark and ominous thundercloud; you know it’s going to burst into a downpour, you just aren’t quite sure how or when.

Now, as I’ve tried to advise people in the past, I’m not so literate. I’m that guy who watches the movie and then gets the book to see what the movie got wrong. The same goes here. I’ll pick up the book shortly so I can expand upon things for myself but all I really know is what the movie did.

So how did it do?

Well, mostly it did great. Obviously, if it brought me to tears (for a significant portion of the film), it made an emotional connection. That connection is the most important aspect of film for me on a personal level and Woodley, Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammel and almost everyone else in the cast slid their way near and dear to my heart. Yes, I know. I’m still adorable.

That doesn’t mean this is perfect and if I were ranking the “quality” of the movie as objectively as possible, like a film critic or something, then I’d find lots of little faults … pun unintended but always welcome. The biggest issue I had with the movie was the inclusion of both Willem Dafoe (though I like him as an actor) and really, in how his character fit into the larger context of the story. He plays a writer who means a great deal to Hazel, and therefore to Augustus, but the way in which he gets introduced, and the manner in which he’s portrayed almost felt like a different movie. It just didn’t fit together and I kept being pulled out of the story as my mind raced to fit this square peg into the otherwise round hole that is the film … that analogy sounded different in my head by the way.


There’s also a very weird section where Hazel’s life is analogized to that of Anne Frank … yeah, umm … well … I tried to find a better way to say that but really, it was just weird. If I hadn’t been so invested in the characters by this point, I’m not sure how I’d have felt about it. And unsurprisingly, there are some character dynamics that must be taken more on faith than actual development which likely were addressed much better in the book. But that’s books for you. They’ve got pages and pages to express inner motivation. Films have to show you these things and while Woodley once again delivers a character so innately fierce and vulnerable all at the same time, not everyone found a way to level me with a simple look like she did at times here. As amazing as she was in The Spectacular Now (and The Descendants), this is really her shining moment as she’s the clear lead this time around and everything hinges on her performance and her character.

I think you get the gist of things by now. You’re either okay with seeing a movie that will obviously reduce you to tears (if you’re as adorable as I am) or you would rather not get a good cry in a dark movie theater, or maybe not even in the comfort of your own home. That’s okay too. But if you think this movie sounds like something that will give you some sense of perspective, some level of connection, or maybe just some excuse for an emotional release, then please go out and watch The Fault in Our Stars. Sure, it’s not perfect but I can tell you I’ll probably make a few more trips (on my own dime) to see this in a sublimely dark movie theater. I watch movies because they have the power to make a real connection … if not directly, then by sparking something else that just needed to be given permission to get expressed.

And for the last time, I know. I’m adorable. I just can’t help it. I could have written this with a far more objective frame of mind but I simply don’t see why I should. This is a story about the heart and I think speaking from mine (while listening to the movie’s soundtrack no less) is far more in line with that ideal. I’ll leave the brainy criticism to smarter critics. You’re stuck with me. For better or for worse. Now who’s adorable?

GRADE: B+

The Fault in Our Stars was directed by Josh Boone and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.

– Reviewed by Ian Forbes

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