The Fault in Our Stars

Directed by:  Josh Boone

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, and Willem Dafoe

Viewing The Fault in Our Stars was a traumatic experience.  Not because of the content of the film, but because I was trapped in a theater with hundreds of girls ranging from eleven to sixteen years old who had read and apparently memorized John Green’s novel.  I was spared seeing the Twilight films in theaters, so I was wholly unprepared for the spectacle.  The show was sold out even though it was late at night.  Curse summertime school closures!  Before the film started, there were excited murmurs throughout the crowd.  As soon as Shailene Woodley’s first voiceover started, there was a hearty round of applause.  When the title of the film flashed onscreen, the girls clapped again.  When Ansel Elgort appeared for the first time, the audience swooned and many girls squeaked out “Oh My God” repeatedly.  Much to my dismay, the girls in front of me were particularly emotional, and they started sobbing twenty minutes into the movie in anticipation of death.  During sweetly romantic scenes, funny scenes, scenes that were not remotely sad —the girls sobbed uncontrollably as if they were watching Lupita Nyong’o get whipped in 12 Years A Slave. Even the other teens rolled their eyes at these drama queens. I honestly have never experienced anything like it.  Sweet Valley High would not have incited that sort of angst when I was a pre-teen.  Despite the horror, I still was able to find some enjoyment in The Fault in Our Stars.

Hazel (Woodley) is a sixteen year old suffering from terminal cancer.  She has been able to survive the disease for several years with the help of a miracle drug, but she must walk around with a portable oxygen tank.  Her loving parents Frannie (Laura Dern) and Michael (Sam Trammell) are concerned that she is becoming depressed.  They convince her to attend a cancer support group.  Hazel reluctantly agrees just to make her parents feel better.  While at the support group, Hazel meets Augustus (Elgort).  Gus is in remission, but his cancer caused him to lose one of his legs, and he walks with the assistance of a prosthetic limb.  Hazel immediately catches Gus’s eye and he sets out to win her heart.

Hazel is initially reluctant to become involved with Gus.  She views herself as a ticking time bomb that will explode and destroy everyone in her path because of her looming death.  Gus does not care about their circumstances.  He lives in the moment and truly believes that Hazel is beautiful inside and out.  They bond over a book entitled An Imperial Affliction written by a recluse named Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), and they become obsessed with meeting him.  As they work on fulfilling Hazel’s last wish, the two fall in love.

I have not read the book, so I cannot speak to whether the book or the film is better.  However, the film is solid and it is driven by the strong performances of Woodley and Elgort. I was initially dismayed by the fact that Woodley and Elgort played siblings in Divergent and are lovers in this film a few months later. Even though the two actors are not related in real life, it just felt wrong.  However, in The Fault in Our Stars, the chemistry between Woodley and Elgort is so genuine and compelling, that I pushed Divergent out of my mind and was able to focus on their bittersweet romance. 

Woodley shines as a young woman struggling with her own mortality.  She plays Hazel as smart, wry, caring, strong and mature beyond her years.  Elgort is handsome, charming, devoted and full of light and laughter.  He is a little too perfect to be true, but his unwavering passion for Hazel and his determination to win her ultimately makes sense.  Woodley and Elgort have such a great connection that you cannot help but root for their love. Even though the cancer dooms them from the start, as you watch the film, you root for a miracle.  It is truly bittersweet to see two teens fall in love and find hope and joy in hopeless circumstances.

While I found Woodley and Elgort compelling, I did feel that the film ran a little too long (and not just because of the drama queens wailing in front of me in the theater).  At a certain point, the film just feels like the same scene over and over again.  Specifically, Gus doing something sweet and amazing to convince Hazel that there is still life left to live.  With death being a foregone conclusion, it felt like the story was setting viewers up for tragedy in a somewhat heavy handed fashion.

Overall, The Fault in Our Stars earns a strong 0.06% rating.  I am thrilled that so many young people are reading, and this film demonstrates that more than vampires, wizards and death matches can reach audiences.  Stories about real young people with difficult circumstances can sell as well. I would recommend watching it at home to avoid the shame of sniffling along with a bunch of twelve year-olds.