8.6/10 – IMDb
82% – Rotten Tomatoes
Be prepared for the impending ubiquity of The Fault in Our Stars. Already one of the most popular young adult books of all time, the story’s film adaptation is already on track to be one of the most successful romantic movies of all time. Unfamiliar with the story and surrounded by an army of teenage girls, I set out to simply let the movie wash over me, emotions untamed. Well, I got sad. Very sad. And then happy. Then sad. You get the point. I cannot say I was the target demographic for this story, but let my reaction send a message to naysayers disregarding a somewhat “girly” movie: this is a powerful film filled with moving performances and heartbreaking moments.
Should I pay to see it?
You won’t gain much seeing it in a theater versus watching from home, but perhaps you should get out and see it if only to avoid being the social pariah who has not experienced the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster. Her story, surely the most moving thing to ever happen in Indiana, came from the mind of author John Green and his experiences at a children’s hospital, so you know tears will probably result. Shailene Woodley plays Hazel, once again finding her character surrounded by death, as was the case alongside George Clooney in The Descendants. After grinding through awkward first encounters and lackluster writing in the first few scenes, Woodley delivers a powerful performance, confirming the immense talent hinted at in her performance clashing with Clooney. We know from the start that Hazel is not long for this world. Her struggle is not to comprehend her fleeting life but rather to accept that her family can go on after she — the “grenade” — explodes out of this world. Woodley is apparently a very strange young talent but a talent nonetheless, delicately balancing Hazel’s impressionability and precocious sensitivity to the livelihoods of those around her.
Laura Dern provides great support as Hazel’s mother, always teetering on the edge of mania while facing the inevitability of her daughter’s decay. Sam Trammell rounds out the Lancaster family, and the moments in which these three interact are perhaps the rawest in the film. In one of the final scenes, Hazel screams at her parents, reminding them that she will soon leave them with an empty home and the possibility of empty lives. What results is one of the realest and most emotional family scenes I have ever witnessed in film or life. The chemistry between Woodley and her onscreen parents is remarkable, each little joke playing natural and each turn for the worse believably cruel. If you’re a fan of the book, the cast members, or movies of this nature, go out and see it immediately. If you’re none of those things, you just might be very soon.
Could I watch it with a date?
Like, duh. It should probably be required viewing for all couples, young and old, though the film carries the risk of belittling our love lives by showcasing the connection felt between Hazel and Gus (Divergent’s Ansel Elgort). I must say I could not stand Gus for the first few scenes, but he grew on me as a character, and I’m told certain viewers will think he is rather dreamy. His Rik Smits jersey doesn’t hurt. Danger lurks in shooting down the lead performances as undermined by young actors. I myself was ready to do so, but we have to realize that in the dire circumstances Hazel and Gus face, one would largely be reduced to being, well, a child, fearful and unsure and looking for any kind of answer available. The most poignant scene of the film takes place in Amsterdam, as the young couple climbs the endless stairs at Anne Frank’s house, Hazel refusing assistance as her shaky lungs threaten to fail her. As Hazel finishes her climb, Frank’s voice crackles out:
“We’re much too young to deal with these problems but they keep thrusting themselves on us until, finally, we’re forced to think of solutions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end. God wishes to see people happy.“
Prior to meeting Gus, Hazel sees the world as a dark place rushing towards oblivion, but in this moment we hear Frank’s voice, and we know that it fills Hazel’s mind and heart. She finds herself obsessed with An Imperial Affliction, a fictitious novel that contemplates a cancerous life but fails to address life after death, that is life for loved ones after the death of their sickly beloved. By the end of the movie, the author of the book himself is handing her advice not from his book but instead from the mind of Gus, revealing to us Hazel’s growth, her recognition that the people right before our eyes hold far greater power than those found in the pages of fiction. You can probably understand why this makes for such a great date movie. You and yours should leave the theater holding each other just a bit tighter, lingering a second longer.
Could I watch it with my mother?
You very well could, but be warned: your mother will want to hug you after watching. A lot. I don’t want to go on and on about Hazel and Gus, though I could, so allow me to touch on Willem Dafoe. I do not know how or why he was cast in this movie, but I no longer really care. As the drunken author of Hazel’s beloved Affliction, Dafoe is mean and nasty and determined to neglect any traces of hope for a happier existence. In his pajamas or a rebellious white funeral suit, he is believable as the pessimistic poet, the reluctant fallen icon in Hazel’s life. As one may predict, his character turns out to have more good in him than it first appears, but even this arises only from Gus’ persistence and adoration for Hazel. Dafoe appears only briefly, but he makes his presence known. One might expect him to draw older viewers in, and maybe that is the case, but he does so only to then become a movable object in the path of Hazel and Gus’ unyielding love. The movie focuses on the young lovers, but really it redeems the power of family and the will of the individual over and over again, from Hazel to Gus to their parents and beyond.
It’s hard to boil such a rich story down to pithy remarks or all-encompassing truths. Green, and consequently the movie’s players, spew out profound thoughts regarding grief and hope and fate, reminding us that “[pain] demands to be felt,” that “funerals are for the living,” that deeply touching the life of another is far more fulfilling than flashing before the eyes of many. It’s impossible to imagine the struggles of Hazel, Gus, and their families unless you’ve been through similar experiences, but Green crafted a story that still remains acceptable and relatable. Gus pushes Hazel to see light in dark times, and Hazel pushes Gus to see grand things within a small existence. They rise and fall, but never too high or low, able to endure and persevere and thrive because of one another.