The 400-Word-Review: The Fault in Our Stars
By Sean Collier
June 9, 2014
Hazel and Gus are the most awesome bright-eyed teenagers ever. They are so very pumped about the world. They love learning! And books! And curious works of art! And they think very seriously about very serious things, then put those thoughts into carefully-crafted sentences. They are recreations of the coolest friends you had when you were 17, with none of the jaded undertones.
They also have cancer. Lots and lots of cancer.
Bestselling author John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars is one of those instant-weepers that puts young people in immense peril for maximum dramatic effect. There’s more to it than that, of course, as Green is using these doomed youngsters to (I think) make a broader point about cynicism and honesty (emotional and otherwise). The tale is also innovatively structured, using death itself as the antagonist in the face of relentlessly hopeful humans.
The film adaptation stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Ansel Elgort as Gus; Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe and Mike Birbiglia are among the grown-ups turning in supporting roles. I haven’t read the book, but I’m told that the film follows it very closely; the few flourishes added by director Josh Boone seem in line with the tale’s tone, and almost all the dialogue was culled straight from the novel by the gifted screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber.
Hazel is a truly original and admirable creation, and Woodley gives her considerable life. The talented young actress, who shone last year in The Spectacular Now (also written by Neustadter and Weber), is able to give Hazel a forthright yet measured agency. She’s a fine counterpoint to a thousand underwritten characters, and is certainly the chief reason to see The Fault in Our Stars.
There are other reasons, too; it’s wistfully shot and directed, and many of the performances are powerful. I’m left wondering, however, what was lost in translation. The hype for the book doesn’t seem fulfilled by the on-screen product, and the trouble lies in those young folks; while I’m not sure anyone is to blame (certainly not the performers), I don’t see the inner life of this lot the way I did in Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back or Stars’ most direct relative, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m fairly certain that depth and complexity existed on the page, but in bringing Hazel and Gus to the screen, something feels missing.
My Rating: 7/10
Average Score on CriticsChoice.com: 80/100