Entertainment

The Fault in Our Stars

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Friday Jun 6, 2014
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Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star in 'The Fault in Our Stars'
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star in 'The Fault in Our Stars'  (Source:Twentieth Century Fox)

The adaptation of John Green's uber-popular Young Adult novel "The Fault in Our Stars" arrives on screen a mere two years after it hit bookshelves and touched the hearts of teenage girls everywhere. Luckily, the book -- a sly and honest look at young love amidst illness -- reached far beyond its intended audience and found a place the hearts of young and old, male and female.

As a result, there is a lot of expectation riding on this film. It's a relief, then, to announce that for the most part the filmmakers got it right. The minor flaws don't affect the enjoyment or the emotional reaction you are bound to have. In that respect, "The Fault in Our Stars" is faultless.

For the uninitiated, "Fault" concerns one Hazel Grace Lancaster (the amazing Shailene Woodley), currently dealing with a rare form of cancer that attacks her lymph nodes and makes her lungs the bane of her existence. Hooked up to cannula and dragging around a tank of oxygen, Hazel approaches life with a candor and wit that is refreshing, while hiding a constant worry that she will leave pain and heartache once she dies. Her parents (played by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) are "helicopter" parents, hovering around her and making sure she's okay, allowing her the freedom to live a life that has a ticking clock. However, it is when she is forced to go to a cancer support group that she meets the person that will alter how she looks at her life -- or what she has left of it.

Enter Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort (last seen, incidentally, as Woodley's brother in the hit YA adaption "Divergent"). He is a confident cancer survivor whose one battle scar is his lower leg, which was removed and replaced with a prosthetic. Full of speeches and metaphors, Augustus is immediately drawn to Hazel's sarcastic nature and blunt view of the world. The two are opposites in many ways, but that is what draws each to the other and soon enough they have become friends.

But dating someone with a disease (much less a terminal one) is problematic, as seen with Augustus' best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) who has already lost one eye and is on the verge of losing the other. Because of this, his girlfriend breaks up with him and he starts to slide slowly downhill. But with Hazel and Augustus to pull him back up, he avoids complete self-destruction.

The two carry on as young kids often do, talking about the things they love (her favorite book) and their fears (not being remembered). Their discussions are honest and forthright, and this speeds how quickly the two fall in love with each other.

But this isn't just a movie about love. It's a story about living life day by day and finding the happiness anywhere you can so as not to drown. These two have learned to cope with the harshest realities of life while still being able to feel what's around them. But when the reality of the disease rears its head, it will invariably change their worlds.

Woodley continues to prove she is an accomplished and natural actress. From her standout turn in "The Descendants," her graceful performance in "The Spectacular Now," and her turn as a kick-ass heroine in "Divergent," Woodley is like the earth-mother version of Jennifer Lawrence: She's pretty, but not so pretty that she doesn't feel real. And she knows how to deliver even the most earnest lines as naturally and believably as possible. This can be credited to the faithful script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ("500 Days of Summer"), which uses author Green's words and allows them to breath in real people's mouths, reverently capturing the dialogue and affectations of real teenagers. When Hazel exclaims, "What is my life right now?" we want to chuckle at the over-dramatic response she gives to receiving an email from her favorite author. But the words and the delivery of the line are spot-on. These are things real kids do and say, and that makes the entire film feel authentic.

Along with Woodley, relative newcomer Elgort ("Carrie") shines in the romantic lead role of Augustus. His magnetism is dynamic, and it's easy to understand Hazel's attraction to him. While he comes across a bit cocky, he tempers this by letting us see the vulnerability within him. Together, the two create an exquisite on-screen romantic partnership not seen in many years.

It feels wrong to pick the film apart when it has done so much right. The filmmakers have cast perfect actors for the roles, and they've stayed incredibly faithful to the source material. If there were any complaint, it would be to note an overuse of pop music when there needs to be just an instrumental score. If we have to struggle to hear the dialogue, it begs for the sound designer to lower the music.

Similarly, the film looks a bit flat. There's nothing overly theatrical or cinematic here, and the film could have stood a bit more flair. As it stands, it looks like a well-made film for television. But again, it gets so much right it feels petty to quibble about such things. This film is an effective look at being a teenager in crisis, being a human being in a difficult world, and being in love when it feels selfish to do so. It is a profoundly moving film that has the ability to entertain and say something at the same time. How can you find fault in that?

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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