REVIEW: “The Fault in Our Stars”

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It’s a shame that the modern movie culture in Hollywood automatically causes me to be leery of films like “The Fault in Our Stars”. Sure it’s based on a novel loved by millions, but countless times Hollywood has shown its ineptitude in realizing these kinds of stories on screen. Well this film turned out to be a huge success raking in over $300 million at the box office. But we all know that a hefty box office take doesn’t always signify a quality movie. Thankfully “The Fault in Our Stars” tells a better story and features a compelling lead performance.

Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a smart and witty teenager who happens to have stage four lung cancer. Her illness started in her thyroid at an early age and she has fought it since. There is no build up towards the severity of her illness. All of the cards are put on the table at the very beginning. We quickly know that she is dying. We quickly sense her day-to-day struggles. She can’t walk long without shortness of breath and we never see her without her oxygen. This is her life and we are given just enough exposition to ground us and prepare us for this story.

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Her parents are played by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell and they are a breath of fresh air. There is no family dysfunction. There is no abuse. There is no absentee dad. They are stable and loving parents, something rarely depicted in Hollywood these days. Overprotective and obvious? Perhaps. In fact in an early scene Hazel’s mother is convinced her daughter is depressed. She encourages Hazel to join a support group. As fate would have it, she meets a hunky fellow named Gus Waters (Ansel Elgort). At first he reminded me of a stalker, but he soon wins Hazel over with his charming personality and his pearly white smile which the camera captures over and over and over….

Despite being a bit corny, Gus is a good, earnest guy. He lost part of his leg to bone cancer, but it doesn’t seem to dampen his spirits. That’s exactly what Hazel needs. She needs his honesty, his positivity, and of course his love. It’s not that she doesn’t resist. She does show hesitation, but thankfully the film doesn’t wander down that overused and familiar path. Instead it actually presents us with situations and a relationship that feels genuine yet uncertain because of the dark cloud hanging over it.

There is something else I found refreshing about “The Fault in Our Stars”. It was nice to see two teenaged characters without the same hackneyed problems and attitudes that we often get in teen movies. Aside from cancer, Hazel and Gus are smart, well adjusted teens without a host of personal or emotional problems. It was a nice change from the routine damaged bad boy or smart, sharp-witted loner girl. The characters of Hazel and Gus are quite different than that.

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Overall the film tells a good story, but it doesn’t mind flipping a few conventional switches. There are a handful of scenes that are so clearly intended to bring on the tears. Some were incredibly cheesy and felt out of place and false. One particular contrivance appears at the end and is too much of a stretch. Then there is Elgort’s performance which is uneven and sporadic. For the most part he has an undeniable charm, but there are also moments where he looks stagy and uncertain. It also doesn’t help that he shares scenes with Woodley. She’s a fabulous young actress who manages this material with conviction and wit. She makes Hazel feel true and authentic even during those few times when the movie doesn’t.

“The Fault in Our Stars” will definitely have many people reaching for their tissue. In fact even I got a bit misty during the moments that played out naturally. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t always feel natural. But I still give it a lot of credit. It has some refreshing components that distance it from the normal teen tripe. It also handles a very difficult subject tenderly and responsibly. And it is yet another showcase for Shailene Woodley, a young actress who seems to get better with every role she takes.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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21 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Fault in Our Stars”

  1. Good point about how normal the kids are despite their illnesses. The parents did seem real, the author story was interesting but the payoff felt weak. I read the book before I saw the film, it was a faithful adaptation.

    • Thanks for reading. I was really impressed with how the characters were laid out. It’s also interesting to hear how faithful it is to the source material.

  2. Glad to see a positive score Keith, this film definitely begs for the use of tissues perhaps on one too many occasions but I really got into it. I’m not exactly a sucker for teen stories myself, but this was something different. Good points about the parents and how they were actually depicted as stable, loving role models. Shailene Woodley is just too good of an actress, she really is.

    • Woodley is good. She definitely blows away her love interest in terms if acting ability. I was really impressed with how well the parents were done. It’s such a refreshing variation from what we normally get.

  3. This is a good reminder that I need to check this out. I was put off a bit by the fuss last year despite all the good reviews, and like you I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to adaptations of this kind of popular book (though I thought The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, which has a similar fanbase from what I can tell, was OK). I’ll give this a whirl when it pops up to stream, as it sounds a bit different.

    • It is surprisingly different Stu. Much more than I expected. I watched this and write the review back in January. I too had put the movie off not believing it was my thing despite the hype. I’m glad it was better than I expected.

  4. I’m glad you gave it a positive review. You make valid points–ironic, isn’t it, that two well adjusted, nice teenagers have every reason to be angry/depressed and they face death gracefully rather than showing stereotypical angst-ridden teenagers facing their world with tantrums and anger? Very nice review, Keith.

    • Thanks so much Cindy. Isn’t it nice to see characters go against the expected direction? For me that was the biggest treat. All in all this was a very nice surprise.

  5. Good review Keith. It’s sappy as can be. But what bothered me was how the writing made these kids sound so hip and cool, but instead, just made them constantly annoy the hell out of me.

    • Thanks man. I didn’t see that at all. I didn’t see them has ultra cool. I think the guy tried to be but I thought Woodley wasn’t a bit nerdy and introverted.

  6. Great review Keith! Y’know I was curious to see this as I had the chance to chat w/ Ansel Elgort for Divergent. In fact I actually told him I probably would be a basket case seeing this film so I probably should wait for dvd. I still haven’t got around to it for some reason, but nice to hear it’s worth a look. I like Shailene too, though I’m not as excited for her new flick Insurgent.

    • Woodley is very good here. She continues to really impress me. Elgort on the other hand, his performance had its share of problems. On the other hand I really appreciated the characters and the parents. They were so different than the normal movie caricatures.

  7. Great review Keith! I must say that I enjoyed this as an adaption, though I don’t know if I will be rushing to watch it again, though I have read the book a few times and keep returning to it because it is a truly phenomenal read. I think that the movie is a better experience if you have read the book, if that makes sense?

    • Interesting. I’m like you. I do like the adaptation ( obviously), but thinking on it it’s not really one that I will watch again anytime soon. Still it was quite the surprise for me.

  8. great review Keith. I’m usually not a fan of sap at all, but I loved this movie and the the book too. This was one of my top movies for 2014 because it was so refreshing and moving at the same time

  9. Pingback: Movie Review – Allegiant

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