The Fault In Our Stars (2014)
Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Woolf, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Defoe.
Plot: Hazel, a teenage cancer sufferer reluctantly falls in love with fellow cancer patient, Gus, until their lives are suddenly ripped apart.
It is hard to really assess a film such as The Fault In Our Stars. Is there a worse first line in the history of reviews? A critic denouncing his ability to properly review as they battle between their inner cynic and an overwhelmingly sentimental core. A reviewer will often assuage from such sentimentality that the film is achingly awful guff with no real meaning.
This film runs on its overplaying of sentimentality – its tender themes incorporate love and emotion often to the detriment of more powerful, visceral emotions such as pain. Which is just as well, as cancer is immensely painful and a vivid, realistic account of the tribulations that the illness involves would be immensely distressing.
Hazel Grace Lancaster (played by Shailene Woodley) suffers from terminal thyroid cancer. Urged on by her overprotective mother she attends a weekly cancer patient group where she meets the dashing and exciting Augustus Waters (played by the affably charming Ansel Elgort). Love ensues as Gus ignites Hazel’s passion for life.
There’s not enough context or edge to the characters to make any critics truly excited. They all act wholly purely and principled, (Gus carries a cigarette in his mouth yet doesn’t light it – an apparent metaphor for life and a grossly pretentious one at that). Though the world and its inhabitants aren’t that idealistic, we have our flaws and imperfections and it seems fanciful to see these children act in the ways that they do when faced with the unfairness placed upon them. Yes, they throw eggs and they smash trophies but its all gone about in a distinctly PG manner.
The Fault In Our Stars is a sad film, you may even cry, but you will not feel pain. It’s emotional but in a nostalgic manner straying away from any true brutality.
Pathos and emotional intensity emanate simply from the situation that is built up. Cancer has deeply affected emotional consequences and especially amongst teens where your whole world is ahead of you; when cancer can destroy all that ambition and potential and all that life goes unfulfilled.
You can see why this film has inspired so much fervent adoration and devotion. The film is eminently quotable (“Funerals are not for the dead”; “I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable”; “Pain demands to be felt”) mawkishly so, as if every word has been by plucked from a 15-years old’s Tumblr account.
Yet we shouldn’t just denounce a film that goes after such commercial appeal, as despite all its faults (pun unintended) the film has a great deal of heart and is made by people who are fully aware of the power this sort of source material can conjure. ‘Paper Towns’, another Green novel was released as a film this year [reviewed by Tricia Lowney here]and his first novel (and arguably his best) ‘Looking for Alaska’ is already in development. Hollywood is really tapping into this well Green has created of modern-day tragic romanticism, evoking the same passions as Joyce, Kerouac, Salinger, Plath, or more recently John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink), see The John Green Formula.
Is John Green the natural heir to the legendary John Hughes, the master of tapping into teen romanticism, portraying how it really feels during our awkward adolescence? Only time will tell, but the forecast is good; just keep the Kleenex handy!
Sidenote: Why do they make out in the house of Anne Frank? Isn’t that wildly inappropriate? Why are the Dutch people clapping? Is no-one else made uncomfortable by this PDA in the Anne Frank museum???