Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Fault in our Stars - A Review

The film adaptation of John Green’s wildly successful The Fault in our Stars already looks set to be the big cry-your-heart-out hit of the summer. Fans of Green’s novel can rest easy knowing that the film stays incredibly close to its source material; it is sad yet funny, enjoyable yet thought-provoking. Whilst it is hardly going to become an instant classic, it is almost certainly something which will leave viewers thankful for having experienced.

The Fault in our Stars
Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel Grace Lancaster, an intelligent, caring sixteen year old who falls for Ansel Elgort’s confident, striking Augustus Waters. The twist?  They both have cancer. What is refreshing about The Fault in our Stars, however, is that it is not a story about two cancer patients who fall in love, it is a story about two teenagers who fall in love, who just so happen to have cancer. The characters’ illnesses are certainly not shied away from – Augustus is shown to be an amputee and there is no scene in which Hazel is able to breathe without the aid of her cannula – but what the film makes abundantly clear is that they are people not patients, defined by their choices and actions, not by their treatments and disabilities.  

The strongest performance by far is that of Woodley, whose vivacity is delicately counterbalanced with an impending sense of her own mortality. There are very few actresses, especially of Woodley’s age, who would have been able to give such a strong performance in so challenging a role; her ability, however, to do so proves that there is no fault in this star, and she will undoubtedly shine bright for years to come.

No fault in this star: Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster
Despite only playing a minor role, the other standout performance belongs to Nat Wolff, who is brilliantly intense and genuinely funny as the recently single, newly-blind Isaac. Laura Dern and Sam Trammel both deliver solid performances as Hazel’s parents, as does Willem Dafoe in his portrayal of the troubled, world-weary Peter Van Houten whom Hazel so greatly admires. It is only Ansel Elgort whose work occasionally leaves something to be desired. It is, on the whole, decent, but it is unfortunately flecked with odd moments where his lack of experience is apparent.
There are numerous occasions where the film suffers from poor dialogue and veers too far into the realm of pretentiousness; Gus’s heavy-handed, scraping-the-barrel cigarette metaphor is eye-roll worthy to say the least. However, these are criticisms which are better levelled at Green’s book, and so on this front the film may be forgiven. There are, unfortunately, pacing issues which seem to stem from remaining a little too faithful to the novel, which results in it feeling slightly slow and flat in places. Moreover, there are also times, particularly in the final third, where the dramatic beats begin to feel rather like churned-out ‘weepy’ scenes. Though it must be noted that Woodley’s acting in these ‘weepies’ is so moving that, on this front, too, the film may also be forgiven.

The Fault in our Stars is flawed, but certainly worth experiencing.
Alhough it is unmistakably marketed towards a teen audience, The Fault in our Stars is one of those films which people of all ages will be able to enjoy; however, those who will arguably find it most rewarding are those who have followed Green for a number of years. In his YouTube videos he has spoken at great length and with greater frequency about the people and the novels which have influenced him most, and for those familiar with Green it is easy to chart these influences throughout the course of the film. (The debt it owes to The Catcher in the Rye, for example, is unmistakable.) The transition from seeing Green speak about these influences in pixelated videos in one corner of the internet to seeing them actually at work on the big screen in an internationally-successful film speaks volumes about just how far his career has come in such a relatively short period of time.

There is one scene in the film which sees Hazel and Gus display their fondness of a quotation in Van Houten’s novel An Imperial Affliction: “Pain demands to be felt.” The Fault in our Stars, despite its flaws, and if only for the stellar performance of Woodley, is a film which demands to be seen.