Synopsis: Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey.
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Willem Dafoe, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Mike Birbiglia, Lotte Verbeek, Emily Peachey
Director: Josh Boone
Running Length: 125 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: After reading several early rapturous reviews of John Green’s 2012 novel The Fault in Our Stars I, like all my good bandwagon hopping peers, snapped up a hardcover copy to say I owned it and then let it sit on the shelf where it gained a fine layer of dust. When it was announced in 2013 that the film version of the novel was hitting theaters in 2014 I dusted off the book and carried it around with me with the best of reading intentions…only to see it make its way back onto the shelf, unread.
Suddenly, it’s 2014, I’m seeing the film in a week, and my guilty procrastinating personality kicks into high gear and I finally crack open the book. The rest is history…the kind of superior reading experience that maybe I was always destined to have. Green’s novel, told from the matter-of-fact perspective of a girl dying of lung cancer, was a humorous, heart-string tugger that never felt sorry for itself or resorted to cliché to keep its audience tearing through the pages. In the novel, love is found between protagonist Hazel and charming Augustus at the very worst time…when death is standing at the door.
Too many films adapted from popular novels suffer by comparison because they either fail to capture what made the action on the page so special or change too much so the product is unrecognizable to fans. That’s not the case here, thankfully, so while it does retain some of the more problematic passages that made the novel perfectly imperfect, its devotion to being faithful made me respect it even more.
I can’t say for sure, but had I not known while reading that Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) was playing the lead I think I would have always imagined her in the role. As it is, after seeing Woodley’s sensitive take on the character I can’t imagine any actress out there today could have done the role justice as well as she does here. As in the novel, Woodley’s Hazel is strong yet vulnerable, direct but caring, and wise well beyond her young years. When she meets Augustus (Ansel Elgort, last seen playing Woodley’s brother in Divergent) in a cancer support group, she finds a kindred spirit that shows her she’s got a lot of living left to do…and wants to live it with her.
Director Josh Boone teams with screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber in bringing this sentimental tear-jerker to audiences without letting the film with such a melancholy subject feel too heavy. The beats are all in the right place and the film enjoys a good hour of splendid magic before veering (like the novel) into a subplot that (like the novel) just didn’t work for me. To say what this tangent is would be to betray what happens later in the film so I’ll merely say home is where the heart is.
As far as differences between the novel and the film, most are too small to report back on. Even though the flash-forward opening moments of the movie had me on edge, it wasn’t the deal breaker it could have been in less devoted hands and thankfully, Boone and co. have figured out a way to smooth over (not change) the ending to be more cinematically sound. As Hazel’s dad, Sam Trammell isn’t as weepy as the novel implies, bringing a welcome stoicism absent on the page that makes him more equal partners with his wife and daughter. It’s hard to believe there was a time I wasn’t a fan of Laura Dern, never really warming to her performances. However Dern (Smooth Talk, The Master, Jurassic Park) delivers moving work here as Hazel’s mom, further cementing my admiration for her talent.
Woodley and Elgort have chemistry for days, something the movie would have been D.O.A. without. Largely thanks to Woodley’s earthy presentation of a dying girl and Elgort’s laid-back approach to a devil may care boy The Fault in Our Stars becomes more than a disease of the week three hanky weeper. A well made film crafted by people who obviously cared about the book quite a lot, there’s little fault to be found here. A nice bit of counter-programming for audiences already weary with effects heavy blockbusters.