By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Love Story, A Walk to Remember, Forrest Gump, and countless other movies feature love stories where a character dies from a terminal illness. The Fault in our Stars is the latest entry in this sort of depressing genre. I’m sure plenty of people, unfamiliar with the young adult novel on which this film is based, are probably pondering the worth of another unoriginal story geared to manipulate emotions. I know. I had those feelings prior to seeing the film, but ended up loving this film dearly, and yes, teared up during its most powerfully sorrowful moments. The Fault in Our Stars may not have a completely original plot, but it has enough personality of its own and some truly magical and romantic moments to set it apart from the typical romantic tragedy.
Based on the novel by John Green, this film tells the story of two young cancer patients who fall in love and attempt to live their lives to the fullest, as they might not have much time left. Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) has been battling a form of lung cancer since a young age. Because her cancer affects her ability to breathe, she must carry an oxygen tank with her at all times. At a cancer support group, she meets Agustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) , an eccentric and witty young man who lost a leg to cancer and wears a prosthetic leg to help him walk. The two reluctantly begin a romantic relationship, knowing that Hazel could take a turn for the worse anytime. In the meantime, they attempt to spend as much time together and share some incredible experiences that life has to offer.
Adapted by writers Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and directed by Josh Boone, The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful and heartbreaking romantic, cinematic experience. I have not read the book on which it is based, but I have heard that Neustadter, Weber and Boone have done a great job, remaining mostly faithful to the novel. The movie does get a little over-dramatic and saccharine in parts, but the key moments in the film are really well written, performed and presented. The eclectic and sardonic wit of the characters make them truly lovable. It is easy to see how someone could fall in love with them. Both Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort deliver superb performances in their respective roles.
Ever since I saw Woodley in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, I knew that this talented young actress would have a bright future ahead. She followed up with another extraordinary performance in The Spectacular Now and continues to impress me with just about every new role. I was unfamiliar with Elgort until I discovered that he played Tommy Ross in the recent Carrie update. Though I wasn’t all that impressed with that film, I can’t deny that Elgort displays a stellar confidence and uses it effectively as the leading young man in The Fault in Our Stars. He too has a bright future as an actor. I can easily see him become the next Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise or even George Clooney. I look forward to seeing more work from both of these actors who have such tremendous talent.
The movie also features excellent performances by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell who play Hazel’s parents, Nat Wolf who portrays Hazel and Gus’ friend Isaac, and Willem Dafoe who stars as Peter Van Houten, an author who wrote Hazel’s favorite book. Comedian Mike Birbiglia delivers a hilarious turn as Patrick, the leader of Hazel and Gus’ cancer support group. As a fan of his comedy and his film, Sleepwalk With Me, I would have liked to see more of Birbiglia in the film. However, I suppose expanding his character in the film really would not have been necessary and would have just diverted the audience’s attention from the main characters and their story.
Their story is absolutely captivating and heartrending. It is a tragedy, so I must suggest that people bring tissues, handkerchiefs, or restaurant napkins (as I did) with them. The characters are so lovable, that when things go wrong, it will level audiences down to tears and runny noses. The film does manipulate emotions a bit, but I suppose that is to be expected with this genre of film. Nevertheless, the intentions of the author and the filmmakers adapting the material seem to come from a genuine place.