John Moran takes another look at The Fault in Our Stars.
A beautiful tearjerker, The Fault in Our Stars benefits greatly from Shailene Woodley’s compelling performance. She plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenage girl suffering from cancer who meets the charming Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a support group. They fall in love, and the inevitable occurs.
“The only thing that bites worse than having cancer is having a kid with cancer.” Hazel dislikes the sugar-coating of so-called “cancer genre” stories and assures us hers will be truthful. She refuses to see depression as a side effect of cancer, as the books, pamphlets and doctors say it is; instead, she sees it as a side effect of dying, and she’s determined to make the most of living. She refuses to wallow in self-pity, and displays a remarkably mature strength of spirit.
Shailene Woodley, nominated for a Golden Globe for her supporting role in The Descendants, makes the most of an opportunity to take centre stage. Her character’s illness necessitates the wearing of plastic oxygen tubes almost in every scene, but she displays exceptional talent in an unselfconscious performance that gives Hazel such credibility as a character.
Ansel Elgort’s work matches Woodley’s, ably carrying off Gus’s cockiness without making him seem arrogant. The conviction and chemistry in their playing, as well as their good looks, gives the young couple an adorable cuteness that adds to the film’s likeability.
(500) Days of Summer permitted writers Scott Neustadter and Michael G Weber to play with the generic conventions of romantic comedy. Adapting a bestselling novel by John Green, they bring to The Fault in Our Stars a similar awareness to the “cancer genre”, but without being overly self-reflexive. Their script emphasises emotion. “Pain demands to be felt”, a phrase from Hazel’s favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, becomes a refrain. Aware of the story’s predictable elements, the writers know that its viewers are probably more interested in sympathizing and getting out the tissues to cry.
Their concern with pushing the right emotional buttons marks a drawback. Any scenes of anger or lashing out are channelled into comedy through Augustus’s friend Isaac (Nat Wolff), whose illness leaves him blind and whose girlfriend breaks up with him. Augustus encourages him to smash some of his basketball trophies, but neither Hazel nor Augusts engage in such an outburst. Death of a Superhero (2011), a recent Irish film in which Andy Serkis counselled Thomas Brodie-Sangster, took as its theme outrage at the cancer’s cutting short young lives. Both Hazel and Augustus remain almost stoic to a fault.
Still, the acting carries it. Woodley and Elgort make their sympathetic characters most appealable, while Laura Dern, as Hazel’s mother, and Willem Dafoe, as the cantankerous writer of Hazel’s favourite, have impressive, if slight, turns.
The Fault in Our Stars will please its intended audience. Bring tissues.