Sunday, June 22, 2014

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014)

Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber


Directed by Josh Boone


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 8, 2014 4:15PM



"The Fault In Our Stars" is the best-selling YA novel by John Green that tells the tender tale of two ailing teenagers who fall in love. It's no surprise that Hollywood wanted to get on board but would anyone beyond the rabid fans of this wildly popular novel really be willing to sit through this young romance under tragic circumstances? To be perfectly honest, I was resistant to the idea myself but "Stars", with a sensitive script by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, the team behind the delightful "(500)Days of Summer" and effective direction by Josh Boone, manages to blend the right amount of joy, humor and heartbreak. Despite some moments that fall heavy on the sappy side, overall the film works thanks in large part to a breath-taking, star-making performance by Shailene Woodley. I would be shocked if the twenty-two year old actress is not a serious contender for an Oscar. She's that good here.

Ms Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She's on medication to help slow the progression and has to carry an oxygen tank to aid in her breathing. Her loving but concerned parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell of "True Blood") are worried that Hazel doesn't have any friends and insist she try a support group to meet people. Highly resistant to the idea and ready to stop going after a few meetings, along comes the dreamy form of Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young cancer patient in remission who lost a leg to the disease. Once he locks eyes with Hazel Grace, he's completely smitten and finds her anti-social behavior quite endearing. Hazel tries to withstand his persistent pursuit but eventually he softens her tough exterior.

The two bond over Hazel's favorite book that happens to deal with a young girl's struggle with cancer but the obscure ending frustrates them both. Hazel would love to talk to the author, Peter Van Houten to find out the meaning but he has become a recluse living in Amsterdam. After making contact with the assistant to the writer, Augustus generously offers Hazel Grace the use of his charitable wish so they can fly to Sweden to get answers personally from Van Houten. Despite a health set-back for Hazel, they make the trip (with mom to chaperon) and meet the writer, played by Willem Dafoe. If you haven't read the book, I'll stop here. Not because anything particularly shocking or surprising happens but the inevitable tears that flow will feel better earned if you're caught somewhat off guard. With the specter of imminent doom always hanging over the young lovers, at least a few tears are most certainly unavoidable but surprisingly, you don't feel manipulated as the waterworks come from an organic place.

While Ms Woodley was able to bring a sense of naturalism to her role, Mr. Elgort is not nearly as fortunate. Even with those sweet, puppy dog eyes working overtime, the actor has no clue on how to convincingly sell these gooey lines of devotion he is given. The script also does him no favors by managing to make Augustus simultaneously a charming, slightly goofy, gentleman but also kind of creepy. His passion for Hazel Grace is so intense and relentless that, at times, makes you feel concerned for her safety.

"The Fault In Our Stars" plays like any other glossy romance although told from an unconventional fatalistic angle.The film largely succeeds as it takes a more truthful look at love and human connection on borrowed time at the moment when life should just be beginning. It's well known that there is no happy ending but you get to experience all of the elation and sorrow of first love expertly portrayed by a rising new talent.