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Overall Rating
2.59

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 Peter Sobczynski

"Malignant Obsession"
1 stars

For reasons that I have no interest in getting into at this time, I must confesses to having virtually no desire at all to see "The Fault in Our Stars," the screen adaptation of John Green's best-selling novel following the romance that develops between a couple of teens battling cancer who develop an instant attraction to each other after meeting in a support group. Although my knowledge of its particulars did not extend much beyond that initial log-line, I must confess that the whole thing sounded a bit ghastly--sort of like "The Bucket List" for audiences carrying fake IDs instead of AARP cards--but it has generated so much interest already from its large and loyal fan base that simply skipping it altogether did not seem like a viable option.

Besides, I don't necessarily have a problem with sentimental material as long as it is handled intelligently and since the adaptation was done by the guys who wrote the lovely "The Spectacular Now," there was a decent chance that this might be the case here. As a bonus, the star of that film, the wonderful Shailene Woodley, was the main performer here as well and just the ability to see her act for a couple of hours sounded like a more than fair trade-off for the potential soapiness of the material. If nothing else, I figured that its millions of fans couldn't all be wrong, could they? Sure, they were wrong with "Twilight" and "Divergent" but with material more grounded in reality, that probably couldn't be the case this time around.

After a build-up like that, it will probably comes as no surprise to most of you to learn that I pretty much hated "The Fault in Our Stars" and found it to be a cloying and insufferable rehash of all the usual cliches of the genre that is all the worse because of its mistaken belief that it is somehow subverting all of those familiar tropes. In reality, all it does is reinforce them in such utterly shameless ways that it makes the weepies of old look like models of restraint by comparison. In presenting the sad story of a pretty couple whose love is torn asunder by disease, it clearly wants to position itself as this generation's "Love Story" but with the exception of a borderline insane mid-film interlude that almost has to be seen to be (dis)believed, it is for the most part barely the equal of "Oliver's Story"

Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, an 18-year-old girl who has been suffering from an exceptionally virulent cancer since childhood, though an experimental drug has been able to keep her more or less stabilized. Despite this, she is morose, largely friendless and spends all of her time obsessively rereading "An Imperial Affliction," an enormous novel about cancer penned by the reclusive author Peter Van Houten. Encouraged by her doctor and her well-meaning parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell), she begins to attend a support group but is alienated from the other members because of their attempts at upbeat attitudes--after all, how can these people be expected to understand her exquisite emotional pain and stuff?

All that changes one day with the arrival of Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a new member of the group whose cancer now seems to be in remission following aggressive treatment and the loss of a leg. With his charming disposition, his amusing bad-boy behavior (he always has an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips to show that he has the power over cancer because he won't let it dominate him--just one of the numerous bits of symbolism on display that presumably played much better as literary conceits than as visual ideas) and non-threatening good looks, he couldn't be dreamier and over a series of ultra-chaste, sort-of dates, the two eventually fall in love. In other words, it is only a matter of time before things turn to the worse for them and they struggle to keep their love alive in the face of the cruelly unfair odds they have been dealt.

At the very start of "The Fault in Our Stars," Hazel informs us that there are two kinds of cancer stories--the kind where everyone somehow manages to be pretty and perky and there is no trauma that cannot be mitigated to some degree by the inclusion of a Peter Gabriel song on the soundtrack and the more realistic one in which nothing is as neat or natural as it seems in the movies. (Ironically, the examples of the rosier scenario, brief as they are, do make up a pretty good part of the coming attractions trailer.) The implication is that we are going to be getting the tougher and more realistic treatment here but with the exception of the occasional caustic one-liner, this is just as goony and moony as the films that it aims to replace, the kind in which everyone speaks in fluent greeting card and where there is no tear that goes unjerked. Everything is just a little too neat and diagrammed for its own good and there is never a sense of the messiness of real life intruding at any point--even the oxygen hose that Hazel sports throughout looks more like an adorable fashion accessory than the gross but necessary intrusion that it is.

For most of its running time, the narrative follows its borderline insufferable path but at about the halfway point, it suddenly goes so completely crazy so quickly that it almost feels as if the entire film suddenly stopped taking its meds for a reel or so. Remember Peter Van Houten, the reclusive author of the unreadable book that I mentioned earlier? In a plot development so weird that it sounds like a joke, Augustus somehow makes contact with the guy--a man whom we are led to believe makes Salinger and Pynchon look like the very models of accessibility by comparison--and gets him to exchange e-mails with devoted fan Hazel. Although he refuses to answer her specific questions about what happened to the characters after the deliberately abrupt end of the book in print, he tells her that should she ever turn up in Amsterdam, she should look him up. (For a brilliant writer, he certainly seems to have difficulty defining the word "reclusive.")

Amazingly, the two of them do make it over to Amsterdam--don't ask--and indeed show up on his doorstep so that Hazel can have all of her questions answered at last. Without going into too much detail, I will merely state that she is in for a rude awakening as her one-time hero basically spends the next few minutes either drunkenly lambasting her or blasting Swedish hip-hop music until the kids get fed up and leave. The whole scene is as ridiculous as everything else on display but for a few minutes at least, the film finally comes to something resembling real life. Making things even crazier is the identity of the actor playing the author. I have no idea if his presence is being kept under wraps or not but since I didn't know he was turning up, I will keep him a secret. Suffice it to say, if you were to pick the least-likely actor to appear in a film of this type, this guy would definitely be in maybe the top five and to make things even more amusing, he delivers his entire performance in the form of what appears to be an impression of cult filmmaker and general wild man Abel Ferrara. For all the cynics in the audiences who will have been put off by all the smarminess up to this point, this scene will feel like a hit of pure oxygen.

It probably makes sense, then, that the best scene in the film should be followed by one so hilariously misconceived that it feels like something out of a spoof. After leaving Van Houten's house in anger and despair, our star-crossed lovers go off to visit no less of a location than the Anne Frank house and even though she barely has the strength to do so, Hazel nevertheless manages to climb all the way up into the attic and it is here that she and Augustus share their first glorious kiss, complete with swirling cameras, swelling music and, to top things off, a round of slow clapping from the other tourists who are inexplicably charmed by the sight of two dopey American kids making out in the attic of the Anne Frank house. Remember that episode of "Seinfeld" where people were scandalized by the notion of Jerry and his girlfriend making out during "Schindler's List"? Well, I think that has now been well and fully trumped in a scene so grotesque in its desire to grab the audience's emotions by whatever means necessary (the only thing missing is a shot of a puppy dog cutely covering its eyes with its paws) that even those who have bought all of its malarkey up to that point will have trouble justifying its excesses here as well as everything yet to come (which includes two eulogies for the same person from the same person, a therapeutic egging and a surprise appearance from. . . no, no, I wouldn't dare tell).

That said, I might have been a little more forgiving of the dramatic and emotional excesses of "The Fault in Our Stars"--at least those not involving the Holocaust in any way--if I had been able to buy the big central romance between the two main characters but even there, the film comes up quite short. Part of the problem is that I never liked Augustus for a second--as played by Elgort, he always comes across as a big, self-aggrandizing blowhard and even his most noble and heart-rending gestures come with an oiliness that is too off-putting for words. Put it this way--if there had been a shocking third-act reveal that his character was actually a perfectly healthy sleaze trolling support groups for troubled young women to seduce, I would not have been a bit surprised.

Woodley, on the other hand, is one of the better young actresses working these days and to whatever degree that the film succeeds, it is due in no small part to her incredible efforts. The trouble is that she is a very smart actress who is almost incapable of selling dumb material and to see her attempting to put this silliness across is almost painful to watch at times. Fans of hers will also note that this is at least the third film in a row that she has done in which she has played a seemingly ordinary and unexceptional girl who is constantly reminded of what a smart, beautiful and utterly unique young woman she truly is, usually by the blandly handsome guy who nevertheless realizes that she is indeed a true ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak world. While I am certain that such roles are an ego boost of sorts to the intelligent, talented and preternaturally beautiful Woodley, I would gently suggest that in the future, she turn down all further parts along those lines in the way that Anne Hathaway took my advice and stopped playing parts that involved tiaras.

Okay, I see at this point that whatever critical points I might have wanted to make about "The Fault in Our Stars" have long since devolved into a long and grumpy rant that is no doubt tied in with the inherent distaste for the material that I mentioned right at the start. My guess is that I will no doubt get inundated with snarky notes from fans horrified that I would besmirch their literary Holy Grail and from others suggesting that I might have actually enjoyed the film if only I were in the possession of a working heart. In order to quickly wrap things up and respond to those potential critics, I would simply suggest that whether they go to see this one or not, they should take the time to look up a film from a couple of years ago called "50/50." Like "The Fault in Our Stars," it tells the story of a young person trying to go on with life despite a cancer diagnosis and even includes a romantic subplot to boot. Unlike "The Fault in Our Stars," it is genuinely smart, funny and moving and tells a story that actually feels as though it was torn from real life and not a Screenwriting 101 handbook. That film had a heart but it also had a brain to boot and that makes for an infinitely more memorable moviegoing experience than this nonsense, a film that only goes to prove once again that millions and millions of teenage girls can indeed be very, very wrong.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25896&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/05/14 16:34:55
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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
6/07/14 PAUL SHORTT EFFECTIVE, HEARTFELT DRAMA 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Jun-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2014

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Jun-2014
  DVD: 16-Sep-2014




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