It's a particularly rare breed of movie that's as good as the best-selling novel that inspired it, but The Fault in Our Stars is definitely one exception to the rule. With a screenplay as smart and delightfully acerbic as author John Green's prose and two knockout performances from Divergent co-stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars is just as much of a gut-punch onscreen as it was on the page.
Thankfully, Green always knew the difference between sad and sappy, and that important distinction is something screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer) clearly understood too. While the story revolves around two teenagers with terminal cancer who meet in a support group and eventually fall in love, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t the second coming of Love Story or your average Nicholas Sparks weepie. It’s a thoughtful, thoroughly entertaining film that celebrates life while the characters remain acutely aware of its brevity.
Only 16, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley) is what you'd call an "old soul." Diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 13, she's always lugging around an oxygen tank because her lungs have stopped doing their job. But thanks to an experimental drug that's kept the tumors at bay, she's doing reasonably well. Not one to mope, she has a sense of humor about her condition and refuses to allow her circumstances to define her.
Still, Hazel's reluctance to make friends (she's often found in the company of her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction) worries her mom (Laura Dern, The Master). So to appease her concerns, Hazel attends the aforementioned cancer support group at a local church.
Led by the cheesiest of leaders with a gazillion Christian clichés at his disposal (it's more funny than biting, trust me), Hazel doesn't find much solace there. Well, until someone, namely Augustus Waters (Elgort) totally takes her by surprise. The rare guy who can actually keep up with her quip for quip, they form an unlikely friendship that Hazel insists won't become anything more.
Trouble is, it's difficult not falling for someone like Gus. In addition to being cute and self-deprecating about the leg he lost to cancer, he's unwavering in his determination to make his mark on the world. Only adding to his allure, Gus is also unabashedly romantic. Armed with the perfect line for every situation, he's like a character straight out of a Cameron Crowe film, only real. Basically, as much as Hazel tries to relegate him to the friend zone, it never quite takes.
Watching Hazel and Gus interact is one of the film's greatest pleasures. Reminiscent of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise (and Before Sunset and Before Midnight), Gus and Hazel not only have effortless chemistry but they aren't afraid to disagree on matters great and small. Whether contemplating the existence of an afterlife or debating the possible reasons for the rather abrupt ending to Hazel's favorite novel, they revel in simple conversation.
As positively swoon-worthy as that sounds, the viewer never forgets how this is no ordinary romance. If you haven't read the book, I'd suggest bringing tissues because the emotional grenade that's unleashed in The Fault in Our Stars will inevitably lead to tears. Still, as sad and heartbreaking as it all is, The Fault in Our Stars explores love, mortality and the meaning of life in such a memorable way. Easy, feel-good entertainment it's not, but in a summer full of that kind of thing, this is most definitely worth a look.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol: Discussion of different drugs prescribed for depression and experimental meds used for treating cancer. Hazel and Augustus drink champagne on a couple of occasions. The author that Hazel and Augustus look up to winds up being a very mean drunk. Augustus is often shown with a cigarette in his mouth but he doesn't actually light them. His reasons are metaphorical: he "puts the thing that does the killing right between your teeth and never give it the power to kill you."
- Language/Profanity: One f-bomb, plus the occasional use of sh--, bit--, da--, as-, as-h--- and pis-. God's name is exclaimed on several occasions and paired with da-- twice.
- Sex/Nudity: A rude reference to testicular cancer. We see Isaac make out with his girlfriend and briefly grab her breasts. Some discussion of Augustus's virginity. Hazel and Augustus have sex once (most of it is off-screen; save for kissing, Hazel strokes Augustus's chest and stomach and we see Hazel undo her bra. There's a brief glimpse of the side of her breast).
- Violence/Thematic Material: There's nothing actually all that violent, just a couple of instances where Isaac is angry and feels the need to break something (trophies in one scene, throwing eggs at his ex-girlfriend's house and car in another). Since the bulk of the film spotlights teenagers who have cancer, there are several unsettling scenes involving pain, Hazel's inability to breathe well and discussions/instances of human mortality and death. One character loses his eyesight because of cancer, another loses most of his leg.
Publication date: June 6, 2014
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