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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.55%
Worth A Look: 4.55%
Just Average63.64%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 27.27%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Fault in Our Stars, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Get your tissues ready."
3 stars

“The Fault in Our Stars” arrives with a caustic buffer via a narrator who insists she’s well aware of the clichés inherent in teenage romance and cancer stories. If only her own story were as resistant towards them as her awareness might suggest—while John Green’s novel often swaggers in the face of tragedy like a teenager putting on a front, it also falls prey to the sappy trappings of both genres, and this adaptation is sometimes layered in overcooked sentiment geared exclusively towards coaxing tears from its audience.

And if the screening I attended is any indication, it works—I can’t recall the last time I heard an auditorium filled with so many sniffles and muffled sobs. None were sourced from me though, and I don’t mean that to act as an above-it-all, cynical gloat. I totally get why “The Fault in Our Stars” would reduce people to a puddle of tears—it’s just that I couldn’t get past the slight glaze of cloying phoniness to join the deluge.

That’s no fault of star Shailene Woodley, who wonderfully embodies Hazel Grace Lancaster, an Indiana teen suffering from terminal cancer. She introduces herself as someone who sees through the bullshit of her situation, almost to a fault. Knowing that a happy ending is unlikely, she’s resigned herself to fatalism and snark; her voiceover monologue—where she apologizes up front for her frankness (“this is the truth—sorry,” she intones)—reveals a sharp but resigned teenager, while her interactions with others (like her all-too-sunny doctor) highlight her acerbic wit. In Hazel, the film finds a confident voice that seems quite capable of backing up its insistence to tackle this material from a position of truth.

Eventually, however, her hardened exterior begins to crack. At the insistence of her mother (Laura Dern), she begins to attend a support group, where she has a meet-cute with Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who eventually reveals himself to be The Perfect Guy, armed with confidence, witticisms, and metaphors. The two begin to fall for each other, and, despite this, the film initially resists turning into a sappy romance. Instead, it’s something of a hangout movie where the participants just happen to have cancer. Along with Augustus’s buddy Isaac (Nat Wolff), the two endure trials both major and minor, and it’s an enjoyably, low-key slice-of-life portrait.

But as Hazel and Augustus plunge deeper into each other, so too does the film descend into saccharine soppiness. The lovebirds especially bond over a book written by an enigmatic author (Willem Dafoe), and Augustus’s ability to be absolutely perfect tracks the writer to Amsterdam. With Hazel having already exhausted her Make-a-Wish, Augustus uses his own in order to shuffle them off to meet the reclusive author. It’s here that the film becomes the exact sort of story Hazel is so adamant to avoid: sappy and full of overly precious interactions between lovey-dovey, googly-eyed teenagers.

The obviousness of it all becomes even more apparent as the film lays it on thick: the two finally confirm their love at the Anne Frank house, a moment whose inherent symbolism is underlined, italicized, and highlighted by the appropriate quotes from the ill-fated young girl’s diary. Hazel and Augustus consummate their love with a kiss right in the middle of the Franks’ attic, a move that seems in bad taste but is actually something I doubt Anne herself would have minded very much. It’s noteworthy that the two are quick to needle Isaac’s corny relationship with his girlfriend early in the film, but, by this point, they’ve become that couple, complete with their adorable little in-jokes and phrases (like Augustus’s irritating propensity for always referring to her as “Hazel Grace”).

Anyway, I have to wonder if this particular stretch isn’t meant to be purposely insulated from the rest of the film, as Hazel gives into the fantasy of it all despite herself. It sometimes does feel as though she and Augustus have stepped into a different world altogether, and much of the trip to Amsterdam is played broadly, with clichéd dialogue and a touch of melodrama. It’s not so much a parody of typical tragic love stories so much as it’s a taste of what these two can never truly have, so I suppose it’s all the more gut-wrenching when they’re forced to reckon with two sobering doses of reality that jolt them back into the realization that they’re star-crossed as hell.

One development signals the transition to the film’s final act, a weepy endurance test in which all of the terrible inevitabilities rear their ugly heads—or rear them as much as director Josh Boone will allow. For a film that boldly proclaims to not gloss over the truth, “The Fault in Our Stars” does pull a few punches here by championing sentiment over authenticity. Rather than confront the ugliness of mortality, it lightly glances at it, choosing instead to carve out time for grand speeches and cloying reassurance. Even one of the film’s uglier episodes (the lovers’ meeting with the author) is reconfigured into a happier moment infused with Meaning and the Big Picture.

Something about it all rings a bit false, as much of the film’s climax feels manufactured and engineered for maximum tear-jerking—which is exactly the sort of story we were supposed to be avoiding all along. Its play at authenticity is a bit undermined here when it does become a cliché cancer story (even as Hazel points out the clichés), where everything’s neatly arranged, with the empowering message arriving with a bow on top.

If anything, the film is at least a far cry from overly-manipulative junk, mostly because Woodley provides such a grounded, natural center of gravity. As Hazel, she deftly toes the line between vulnerability and hardened cynicism, and she manages to modulate even the biggest, most obvious moments in a way that’s beyond her years. In a script where every other scene suddenly becomes a possible “for your consideration” reel, Woodley resists the temptation to go big and broad, and the film is better for it.

On the other hand, Elgort is pretty much all swagger and bluster as Augustus, almost as if he’s trying too hard to be cooler-than-cool; this, too, rings a bit hollow, and for good reason when it’s revealed to be a front. As such, it’s tough to criticize the performance for being exactly what it needs to be, and it’s even tougher to deny the tremendous chemistry between the two leads here—you really believe in their affection for each other, at least before and after the detour to Amsterdam (where it seems like they’ve been run through a romance movie factory).

Occasionally, Boone and company remember that this isn’t just a tragic love story and find time to acknowledge the others surrounding Hazel, such as her parents. Dern is fantastic as a mother in denial, while Sam Trammell provides some levity as Hazel’s father. As always, Dafoe is a welcome presence, even when he’s reduced to a blustery, asshole novelist cliché. With such an impressive troupe, everything feels on point and on-the-nose, which is exactly where “The Fault in Our Stars” is comfortable resting.

Again, as a young adult novel, this is probably exactly what it needs to be, and I imagine its target audience will find it to be a profound experience, one that holds many observations and much profundity—and they wouldn’t be wrong for feeling as such, especially when the film obviously casts such a strong spell.

That leaves me feeling a little bit like a monster for being somewhat immune to it and simply considering it to be fine and a little too precious for its own good. It’s a tidy story that’s occasionally very funny and quite poignant, especially when it’s not overly concerned with arriving at ultimate truths and whatnot. It’s also nice to know that every young adult novel isn’t preoccupied with the apocalypse these days—I was starting to worry that the greatest actresses of this generation were all doomed to walk dystopian wastelands.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25896&reviewer=429
originally posted: 06/06/14 00:00:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/26/14 Lsp4 Meh 3 stars
11/24/14 DeNitra Loved it but the book was better 4 stars
8/02/14 Sarah Morgan Such a good movie! Brought me to tears 5 stars
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  06-Jun-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2014


  DVD: 16-Sep-2014

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