Review by Noah Foster-Koth
Fun Fact: When I first heard the title of this movie, I assumed it would be some sort of tabloid documentary exposing the flaws of revered celebrities.
As it happens, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t anything remotely like that (and it’s much better for it). In actuality, The Fault in Our Stars is the story of a teenage couple who have terminal cancer and draw love and support from one another as their physical condition slowly deteriorates. The film is based on a book by author John Green (the Judy Blume of the iPod generation) but the plot is easily accessible for those who haven’t read the YA novel.
Shailene Woodley has been on the fast track to superstardom ever since her breakout role in The Descendants. In The Fault in Our Stars she plays Hazel, a young woman who’s struggled with cancer for most of her life. It’s not an easy role, but Woodley does a great job conveying both Hazel’s frustrations with her medical conditions and her desire to live life to the fullest.
Woodley’s performance is strong, but it’s newcomer Ansel Elgort who makes the biggest impression as Gus, a teen who’s lost his leg to cancer. Elgort succeeds in filling the character with charisma without making him seem like a slick charmer. Gus projects positivity and self-confidence, but he has a fragile side too. The movie is at its most heartbreaking when Gus is at his most vulnerable.
Gus and Hazel eventually decide that they’re star-crossed lovers, and the chemistry between Elgort and Woodley is so strong that you can almost believe it. They make for one of the most compelling romantic couples I’ve seen in any recent movie.
The Fault in Our Stars isn’t afraid to tell a sad story, and dry eyes were scarce in the theater where I saw the film. Yet rarely is the story trite in its depictions of love and loss, and the movie’s melancholy tone is a natural extension of the subject matter rather than a ham-fisted attempt at pathos. Indeed, the film rarely indulges in melodrama, in large part because the script (which is based on Green’s book) keeps giving the characters interesting things to do. At one point Hazel and Gus bond over a book about cancer, and go on a trip to Amsterdam to find it’s reclusive author. It’s a tangential part of the plot, but it’s also an intriguing one that shows us new sides of the central couple. There are times when I wished The Fault in Our Stars was shorter, but that has more to do with the tragic nature of the story and less to do with my usual gripes about a film going on too long.
Some will be quick to label The Fault in Our Stars as a simple tear-jerker, but that would be doing the film an injustice. This movie provides a nuanced look at how a relationship develops between two people facing terminal illness.