The sweet teenage suffering of 11 million fans hits the big screen
The Fault in Our Stars
Starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort
Directed by Josh Boone
PG-13, 125 min.
“What’s your story?” Augustus “Gus” Waters asks 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster early in this highly anticipated movie adaptation of the wildly popular novel by author John Green that’s sold almost 11 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years.
In answering the question about “her” story, then dissecting it, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who’s fought cancer nearly her entire life, and Gus (Ansel Elgort), the 18-year-old fellow cancer survivor who becomes her soul mate, set the stage for a much bigger story—about two young people determined to make their story more than just a “cancer” story, refusing to let their disease rule their lives or their future.
Green’s romantic, heart-aching, heartbreaking, poignant melodrama of two kids on a “star-crossed” course with fate has teen-DNA strands stretching all the way back to antiquity, running from Romeo and Juliet through the classic 1970s tear-jerker Love Story. The title, a twist on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, refers to the world as a “profoundly unjust place where suffering is unfairly distributed,” according to Green.
As Hazel, Woodley is sensational, especially given that she’s got a breathing tube in her nostrils constantly and she lugs around a canister of oxygen the entire movie, physical limitations that focus us even more on the breadth of emotions she can coax out of even the smallest of facial expressions.
There’s a marvelous scene when Gus tells her that he loves her, and we watch her eyes well with emotion in the soft glow of a restaurant’s hundreds of twinkling (star-like) lights. It’s a moment that taps into all that the movie has been about up until that point, much more complex and nuanced that it might sound, and the camera lingers on Woodley’s radiant face, empowering it to carry the entire weight of everything that goes unsaid.
Her handsome, hunkish co-star, Elgort, who also appeared with her earlier this year in Divergent, is a bit hammy by comparison. But the book’s legions of (mostly) female fans likely won’t be grading his acting chops between sighs and swoons.
Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel’s loving, protective parents, and Willem Dafoe is the scotch-swilling author of that book Hazel adores. Nat Wolff portrays Gus’ friend Issac, who’s losing his eyesight, but not his droll wit, to cancer.
Smarter, sharper and deeper than most movies aimed at teens, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t dumb down its story, its dialogue, or its realities for its target audience, and it blends in some heady existential nuggets—and metaphors—on death, dying, living, suffering, religion, theology, ethics, miracles, time, space, infinity, eternity and oblivion.
For everyone who’s already fallen under the spell of Green’s book, this movie will complete a magnificent arc that began with words on a page, bringing beloved characters, places and conversations vividly, emotionally to life, larger than life, on a giant screen. For everyone else, well, climb on board, better late than never, and get ready to find out what all the fuss has been about—and why, for millions, Hazel’s tale has become so much more than just a cancer story.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine