DIR: Josh Boone • WRI: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber • PRO: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen • DOP: Ben Richardson • ED: Robb Sullivan • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
Based on the best-selling book by John Green, this teenage drama/romance has been as highly anticipated – especially by teenage girls – as, well, any instalment of The Hunger Games or the recent Insurgent, and it’s probably no coincidence that Woodley stars in that second film as well as this one.
She plays Hazel, a teenager on the cusp of being an adult and suffering from a cancer that affects her lungs, and can make going upstairs an exhausting effort. She constantly carries an oxygen tank behind her, and a tube leads from it across her face and to her nostrils.
Nevertheless she’s a “miracle,” a cancer trial seeming to have done the trick for her (for now at least) and so she attends an awkward Jesus-centred cancer survivors group for other teens, and it’s there that she meets handsome Gus (Ansel Elgort), who lost a leg to his cancer, but is in remission.
He’s there in support of his best bud Isaac (Nat Woolf), who will soon lose both eyes to his disease, and is immediately drawn to the tomboyish Hazel. The pair finds an instant connection in their love of a book about cancer, their thoughts about life – and how they know it’s going to be short – and with two sets of supportive parents looking on happily but warily, a friendship develops.
It’s more than that of course, and the ever-gallant Gus decides to use his “Make A Wish” moment for a trip to Amsterdam for the two of them to meet Peter Van Houten, the man behind the book they love. They had both contacted him by email, and with ever-supportive Grace’s mom (Laura Dern) in tow and looking to be matchmaker, a wonderful trip to Old Europe follows.
There’s a posh meal, champagne, Gus declaring his barely-hidden love for Hazel (despite her worry they should just be “friends”) and everything is “cool” and “awesome,” like it is for teens these days. But then, when they finally meet Van Houten (Willem DeFoe), he’s a nasty, bad-tempered drunk with no answers and little sympathy. Gus had bad news too – his cancer is back, and it aint going away – but now they become lovers in every way, and look to the future regardless.
Back in the USA things go downhill, and as the couple try to enjoy their wholesome romance, eulogies are requested – and performed at a special “friends only” rehearsal funeral for Gus – before the inevitable midnight phone call finally comes…
If you think this sounds like a romance melodrama worthy of a teenage Barbara Cartland, you’d be absolutely right. Teenage girls across the world will cry and swoon over this regardless of what anyone says, and you can see why; this is teenage cancer via The Gap.
It’s a world where everyone is quirky or handsome with smooth skin, all the parents wear cool clothes, are endlessly caring and there’s never any mention of where on earth the many hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars are coming from to pay for all this treatment.
There’s nothing nasty or icky or gut-wrenchingly awful or excruciating to watch – like cancer really is – and for all her apparent gutsiness, Hazel follows behind Gus like a passive lamb; he’s the boyfriend of her dreams. So of course, he has to die.
That said, Elgort does more or less steal the show, working hard with his showroom dummy-esque role – you almost expect him to have no genitals, like a Ken doll – and it’s actually Woolf, in two scenes where he rages about being dumped by his girlfriend because “she can’t handle him going blind,” who provides the only real-seeming rage or hurt. They’re all teenagers, but where are the tantrums and the whining?
Woodley – great in The Descendents but coming rather ubiquitous – plays a teen well (they all do), and though it just about avoids too much cheese and sugar (save for the scene in the Anne Frank house), this is something that’s likely to be a staple of many family’s DVD collection, despite that fact that males will bridle immediately at the title, and few people over 21 are going to be able to stand watching it, especially since at over two hours it’s way too long.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Fault in Our Stars is released on 20th June 2014