Director: Josh Boone (Stuck In Love)
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webe, John Green (book)
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.
Cancer sucks and generally speaking, movies about cancer suck. They’re saccharin and overtly manipulative of emotions and show you beautiful people dying and those around them suffering and in the end there’s a moment of happiness when you remember the dead soul who so deeply touched the life/lives of the central characters in the short time they knew the sickly person. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly that movie. The only difference here is that this features such charismatic performances that it doesn’t feel like emotional manipulation but more like some sort of catharsis.
Emerging writing superstars Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are starting to corner the market on touching teen dramas starring Shailene Woodley. Last year they were behind the script for the much loved The Spectacular Now and here they are again adapting from John Green’s best selling novel about cancer kinds falling in love. Hazel (Woodley) is really sick and Gus (Ansel Elgort) is in remission. The pair meet at support group and immediately strike up a friendship that later develops into romance before tragedy strikes. After all, you can’t have a movie about cancer without some sort of tragedy (because having cancer isn’t tragedy enough).
The thing is that in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, the tragedy and emotion that goes with it works. Part of it is the fact that Green’s novel has a streak of bluntness running through it. It’s not all good moments and bad moments but a mix of the two, comedy hand-in-hand with tragedy, and Hazel and Gus tackle life with a sarcasm and sense of mortality that is refreshing. They talk about death, about what comes after (if anything) about the limitless living one can do in our limited time on earth and rather than feel sorry for the sick kids, I couldn’t help but think about what I’m doing with my life. Nothing like seeing young people suffer and possibly die to make you consider if you’ve done enough with your 30 years on earth.
Woodley has a natural chemistry with her co-stars that seems to work as a catalyst for her co-stars and that presence comes through here as well but this time, even more so than in The Spectacular Now, that presence is met by a similar energy. Elgort is just as charming as Woodley and this is clearly his calling card. After a couple of supporting roles (and I literally mean a couple, like 2 – including another job with Woodley) he emerges here as a breakout star that has far more going for him than simply romantic lead.
Judging form the teenage girls supporting each other out of the theatre, eyes red and puffy, the romance in The Fault in Our Stars is working though for me, it’s Hazels parents, Sam Trammell and Laura Dern, who struck a cord. Dern in particular is wonderful as the mother who wants everything for her daughter and the relationship between the two women is brilliant and touching and sweet and made me cry so badly that at one point, I was holding back big heaving sobs. Kids dying is hard but parents losing their children… that’s what really broke my heart and Dern and Woodley beautifully bring that relationship to life.
Green’s book didn’t change my life and if anything, it jaded by expectations of Josh Boone’s movie so when I needed the credits to compose myself before having to talk to anyone, I was pleasantly surprised at the effect The Fault in Our Stars had. But then I remember that I also really liked Boone’s debut Stuck in Love (which also stars Nat Wolff – another kid that’s going places) and it’s not quite as surprising because Boone handles the dynamics of romance and family really well.
The chances that The Fault in Our Stars will make you cry are pretty good but don’t worry, it’s not a depressing movie about the unfairness of a life taken too soon (though it kind of is) but rather a celebration of life and of the time we have and the people whose lives we change and who change ours. They’re big tears that are both happy and sad and which left me feeling better; proof that sometimes we need a good cry.
The Fault in Our Stars opens Friday, June 6th.