“The Fault in Our Stars” is, for the most part, a great movie. Based on John Green’s best-selling novel of the same name, the movie follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), two teens with cancer who fall in love with each other. But this isn’t your Nicholas Sparks-esque story. We know what’s at stake going in, we’re not smacked in the face with twist after twist. We’re not waiting for the big C to rear its ugly head. From Hazel’s cannula to Gus’ prosthetic leg, it’s present throughout the entirety of the film. Readers of the novel (and there are many) already know what’s in store and certainly will not be disappointed, but for those going in blind, I recommend tissues.
The film’s biggest strength lies in the casting. Woodley once again brings sincerity to the role that any other actress would be hard pressed to do. She is Hazel, and when she’s happy, you’re happy. When she cries… again, bring tissues. Watching her on screen feels like watching a real person, you never get the sense that she’s reading lines another person wrote. She manages to bring John Green’s words, which could read as pretentious on the page, to a realistic place when spoken aloud. Elgort has an even bigger challenge, as everything about Gus is larger than life. At first, he almost seems too perfect a person. Despite his lack of understanding as to what exactly the word “metaphor” means, he wins Hazel (and the audience) over. He’s overbearing, staring her down, insisting on calling her by her first and middle name, even inviting her to another country. Yet Elgort plays it with such charm that we almost forget how creepy this could come across had the role been played just a little differently. Over the course of the film, we see a change in Gus, and it’s then that we realize just how thought out Elgort’s portrayal is. Watching the character evolve, we discover that those larger than life gestures and over the top monologues were all a façade for the insecurities beneath. He feels like a fully realized human being, even beyond the way he was written on the pages of Green’s book.
The adult cast, including Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe, and Mike Birbiglia, are all serviceable in their respective parts. Dern in particular stands out as Hazel’s mother, Frannie. However, this isn’t their story, so the movie doesn’t give them much focus. The standout performance in the cast, for this reviewer anyway, would have be Nat Wolff . As the film’s basic source of humor, he nails it as Isaac, Gus’ best friend who’s also dealing with the fact that he’s going blind. Wolff has a natural comedic wit about him, and it’s been revealed that some of the funniest moments in the film were actually improvised by him. He brings a certain amount of joy to the screen, and it’s no surprise that some of the film’s saddest moments are the ones where he isn’t there.
There were so few issues with the movie that pointing them out almost feels like just nitpicking in order to find a balance. Director Josh Boone has only completed one feature film before this one, and it still shows in “Fault.” There’s not a clear sense of a vision in regards to his directing style, but that’s made up for by cinematographer Ben Richardson’s beautiful work, especially during the Amsterdam scenes. Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter have again shown their aptitude for adapting books for the screen. The script plays pretty close to the novel, though it may be a bit too close at times. The infamous Anne Frank scene is sure to bring in a lot of discussion. However, they do a great job with the ending, which is a bit different from the novel, but a lot smoother on screen.
At the end of the day, this movie is one that makes you feel. Whether it’s happy or sad, it’s hard to imagine anyone walking out of the theater not feeling affected in some way. This is not a movie about cancer. It’s a movie about life and love and everything that comes along with it. These characters are not defined by their disease, and that in itself is a pretty important message to send. Strong performances help this one to stand out from other weepy YA adaptations before it, and should it perform as well as it’s expected to at the box office this weekend, it’d be a well deserved win for a “small” film about two kids with cancer.
“The Fault in Our Stars” hits theaters Friday, June 6th.