Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe.
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and (based on the book) John Green
Running Time: 126 mins
Release date: 19th June 2014
John Green’s book The Fault In Our Stars has been taken under the wings by most teenage girls and the level of excitement about the movie, from girls who have read the book, is almost as feverish as when Twilight first came out. It even managed to take more money than Tom Cruise’s excellent Edge Of Tomorrow at the US Box Office. So how comes a film about a girl dying of cancer who falls in love be such a tremendous hit? Going into this film, I did feel a sense of dread so it came as a huge surprise and is possibly the answer to that question. For a film dealing with such a downbeat subject matter, it is incredibly uplifting and witty. well…most of the time.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is a teenage girl whose constant companion is an oxygen tank as she has incurable cancer. She spends her days reading her favourite book, The Imperial Affection, watching reality shows and generally moping around the house. She is forced to go to a focus group for other young cancer victims. There she meets Augustus Waters, an unconventional young man with a prosthetic leg, who has an odd outlook on life that instantly appeals to Hazel. The two become friends and knowing that life is too short, Augustus wants Hazel to live it to the full, helping her fulfill her dream of meeting the author of the book, Peter Van Houten in Amsterdam. It is this journey that the pair fall in love, not knowing how long their love will last.
This is a film that, for me, worked brilliantly for three-quarters of its running time. The main reason was that the subject matter, as bleak as it is, is handled without the morbidness you would expect to find. It’s a surprisingly funny film, with the main protagonists seeking out wit from their predicament and almost laughing in its face. It is unapologetic about cancer. It seems a fact of life that it is out there, that many people have it and it has to be dealt with face on. An incredibly positive message.
Where the film falls down is the impending emotional floodgates that occurs in the final act, as if the film makers and writers, not content to let these two young lovers deal with the condition with strength and determination to, not beat it but to live their lives fully, needed to drain every audience member with tear-inducing scenes egged on by a clichéd soft rock soundtrack, signalling everyone that they should cry now. This occurs throughout the final 30 minutes of the film. There is also one massive misstep and sickeningly cheesy moment in which Hazel kisses Gus surrounded by tourists in Amsterdam and these onlookers break out in spontaneous applause.
Until that point, we are treated to some very smart dialogue, a growing relationship that doesn’t seem force or unnatural and a gut-wrenching scene in which Hazel and Gus meet the alcoholic Peter Von Houten and literally crushes the dreams of a young woman right in front of her eyes. It was this powerful and hugely emotional scene that won me over, as it seemed strangely unfamiliar to these kind of teen love stories and propelled the film to another level of invention and intelligence. Meeting someone you idolise isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Hazel and Gus and no matter how hard you are, or your heart, you cannot help by be warmed by it. They are made for each other: Gus with his twisted view on life (he spends the film with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, as a metaphor) while she, with all her difficulties in breathing, refuses to give up (seen brilliantly when she visits Anne Frank’s house). Which is why I didn’t care too much for the final act. we had spent 90 minutes with these characters and we knew that their time would be limited, we didn’t then need the emotional card to be laid out and so thickly. It became far too heavy-handed.
What also worked for me were the performances. Good to see the always excellent and underrated Laura Dern back on our screens as Hazel’s supportive mother. Willem Dafoe almost steals the film as the venomous Von Houten and Nat Wolff brings some well needed laughter as Gus’s best friend Isaac.
It is the two young leads that really get all the plaudits. Ansel Elgort brings an air of arrogance that is somewhat engaging as Gus, a boy who has to face his own problems yet sees things in a completely different light. It’s a performance that will instantly have all the girls swooning. He is funny, charming and the guys would probably want him to be his best friend too. Then there’s the brilliant Shailene Woodley as Hazel. A rare talent that brings a breath of fresh air to a role that would normally be slushy and full of vulnerability, this is refreshing in that she is feisty and witty and a girl who doesn’t melt at a kind word or a sloppy love song. The last time I saw a performance this confident and this commanding from a young actress was Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.
This will be an enormous smash with teenage girls but there’s enough here for others to enjoy. It’s just a pity that it loses its strength in the final reel and we get, which I am guessing the producers wanted, the Love Story of the 21st century. On the whole, I wasn’t expecting to like this much but I was swept along and ending aside, it worked.