If there’s one thing The Fault In Our Stars gets so very right, is that it imitates the source material perfectly. The book – of the same name, written by the deeply profound John Green – is one of the biggest young adult novels (outside the sci-fi/dystopia bracket) of the last few years. It’s a thoughtful, introspective look at life through the eyes of a terminally ill girl: always funny, never mawkish and definitely worth checking out.
The book, however, is a nuanced piece and the lead teenagers are sensitive and meditative people; for example, the boy, Augustus (played with gusto by rubber-faced Ansel Elgort), constantly has an unlit cigarette drooping from his lips as a metaphor (“You put the thing that does the killing right between your teeth but you never give it the power to kill you”) and he supposedly fears oblivion. On screen it comes off as, perhaps, a little pretentious but director Josh Boone and (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber keep with the original text strictly, never straying far from Green’s vision.
16 year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Divergent’s Shailene Woodley, diving into yet another big screen adaption of a YA novel) has been living with her sickness for a few years but then in the winter of one year her mother decides that she is depressed and packs her off to a support group that meets up in the local church. There, her path crosses with that of Augustus Waters, a charismatic, impulsive amputee. From the off it is clear Woodley and Elgort have compelling chemistry and their irresistible rapport is swiftly established with Augustus sweeping Hazel off her feet with his refreshing honesty. He’s a guy who speaks his mind; when questioned on why he is staring, almost creepily, at Hazel, he remarks, “you’re beautiful and I like looking at beautiful things.”
While The Fault In Our Stars gives our young lovers plenty of light and shade, their devoted families are put to the side to concentrate on Hazel and Augustus’ romance. Mr and Mrs Lancaster get more to do than the taciturn Waters parents (David Whalen and Milica Govich) and in the film’s third act the screenwriters finally bring the family pledged to assist Hazel into the limelight, showing how their lives are affected by her condition. Laura Dern has the real heft as Hazel’s scatty mother but like much of the cast excluding the lead two I came away wanting more from her. True Blood’s Sam Trammell – sporting a bristly beard similar to Austria’s Conchita Wurst’s – acts gamely as Mr Lancaster and in one fleeting scene he attempts to explain to Augustus the perils of the couple’s relationship but their conversation is interrupted and never touched on again.
Furthermore, Hazel and Augustus make little contact with other young people bar Isaac, an attendee of the cancer help group who is losing the sight in his one remaining eye, played by Nat Wolff. He too isn’t given much special to do. Acting heavyweight Willem Dafoe has an excellent couple of scenes but he is despatched as quickly as he came.
I can’t complain that too much focus was given to lovers in a film unpleasantly billed as “one sick love story” but more could have been done with the people around Augustus and Hazel.
Once you push past the affected exterior (this includes lines that are destined for Tumblr: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”) and let your ears adjust to the weighty badinage between Augustus and Hazel, there’s a surprisingly good story to be found. The Fault In Our Stars eschews trite and maudlin drama (though that’s not to say there aren’t a few slushy scenes) for raw and pensive drama. Readers of the book will be rewarded with a faithful adaption and the uninitiated will be treated with powerhouse performances by Woodley and Elgort – and a genuinely half-decent teen drama.
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