Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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A teenage girl meets a boy at her cancer support group and the two share books and fall in love.

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Josh Boone, 2014

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer. While she’d prefer to sit around and read the same book over and over again, her supportive parents encourage her to go (very reluctantly) to a support group. There she bumps (literally) into Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a handsome, 18-year-old cancer survivor whose positive outlook on life contrasts with her fatalistic one. The two strike up a friendship and she shares with him the love of her favourite book, “An Imperial Affliction”. Augustus (who insists on calling Hazel “Hazel Grace” for some reason) discovers that Hazel has been trying to get in contact with the book’s author, Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe), so he e-mails the man and, to their surprise, gets a response. The two of them embark on an adventure to meet the reclusive author, and along the way they fall in love.

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Here’s the deal. From now on, there should be two types of screening for every movie based on preexisting canon: one for fans, and one for civilians. That way, people who are new to a story like this won’t have to share a cinema with hardcore fans who start crying fifteen minutes after the movie starts, and don’t stop until they leave the cinema. It’s very hard to get lost in the world of a movie when there’s constant sniffling around you. As a result, I didn’t emotionally connect with this movie at all. I found the characters pretentious (especially Augustus with that cigarette thing, oh man), which I think might be something intentional but it doesn’t really get examined in this movie. Augustus is a curious beast, and the dialogue is so lofty that it rings phoney on one too many occasions. There’s some good character work in defining Hazel, particularly in the relationship between she and her optimistic mother, played to perfection by Laura Dern. The structure is loose, though the third act is definitely the best, building towards the intended gut-punch at the end.

Shailene Woodley continues to impress in this film, where she convincingly portrays Hazel as a whole, complicated person, with all the typical teen hang-ups and insecurities magnified by her illness. Willem Dafoe puts in a great performance as the irascible author Van Houten, bringing a little much-needed gravity to the film. There are some little filmmaking quirks that are slightly too cutesy – the soundtrack, the font that texts appear in on-screen, flashbacks – that betray Josh Boone’s greenness in handling a story of this scope. There’s a thread of humour throughout that signals the film’s best moments, especially when the grim and the funny coincide, like in a scene where Gus and Hazel try to have a conversation while their raging friend destroys trophies in the background, angry over being dumped. There’s some literary snobbery that grates, but it’s not entirely out of character, and ultimately there are some important lessons that the story portrays. I can only assume it must be easier to connect with the film if you’ve read the book, based on my experience at this movie, which isn’t one I’d want to repeat any time soon.

The Fault in Our Stars on IMDb

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