It’s a bold move to begin your movie telling the audience that you won’t be relaying the “Hollywood” version but will be telling a “true story.” Most of the time this is relayed as an overly depressing, gritty drama that takes the core subject and makes the movie as raw and unbearably sad as possible, confusing realism with dramatic tragedy. The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t do this but does manage to deliver on its promise to a great extent.
This is helped by the casting of the central pair. Hazel and Gus are played by emerging stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort respectively. They manage to make these two teenagers likable, appealing and bring the audience to sympathy with their stories, relationship and experiences. Shailene Woodley has the heaviest of lifting in the story but manages to create a character that isn’t too dismissive of her illness but also doesn’t play the crying victim.
There is always a temptation to play the main, cancer-suffering character as a quick-witted, cocky and over-compensating teenager who needs bringing down to earth. Woodley manages to play this part without the arrogance and distance that this kind of character can create. The same can’t necessarily be said for Elgort’s Gus, who from the moment he is introduced has a cocky streak that clashes with the softer edge of Woodley’s Hazel. He even has the clichéd “quirk” in the form of an unlit cigarette which he puts in his mouth with an accompanying explanation that draws a cringe.
The movie does manage to pull the character through and once the relationship between Gus and Hazel begins to develop, the charm of the central couple shines. They have a great chemistry and this is the focus of the movie. It isn’t a whirlwind romance but a story which is left to evolve and develop slowly, meaning any heartache and drama later in the film has much more of an emotional impact.
That is of course the other aspect of the movie. It is a film about a teenager with a cancer that will eventually kill her. It is going to be a tear-jerker and often you can feel a movie forcing the emotion, looking for the audience to cry and feel moved by the experience. Luckily, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t feel like it is forcing emotion down your throat. There are very emotional moments but none feel too contrived and though it walks a fine line, it never gets too cheesy or too over-dramatic.
It is a very well-written film and has some genuine funny moments. There are surprise turns by Willem Dafoe who gets some dramatic lifting of his own, as well as the support by the parents of the two teenagers, particularly Jurassic Parks’ Laura Dern and True Blood’s Sam Trammell. Unlike the tried and tested cliché, the parents aren’t the over-protective enemies or the cool, hip and cringy adults who try too hard for their sick teenager.
Overall, The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, realistic story which doesn’t stretch credibility too far. It is acted brilliantly by the two young leads, demonstrating that they have a clear future. The movie is sad without forcing emotion and tears and handles a depressing topic in a very accessible and intelligent way, focusing on a well-managed love story rather than illness at the centre of their lives.
Rating – 4
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