Saturday, 30 April 2016

Movie Review: The Fault In Our Stars (2014)


A romantic drama, The Fault In Our Stars sets a teenage love story in the world of terminal disease. The film is squarely aimed at the young adult market and never rises above carefully constructed emotions designed to elicit sighs and tears in just the right amounts at just the right time.

In Indianapolis, teenager Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a cancer survivor who made a miraculous recovery from the edge of death. She now lives day to day with her defective lungs requiring continuous breathing through tubes connected an ever-present portable oxygen tank. Her parents Frannie (Laura Dern) and Michael (Sam Trammell) encourage her to join a support group where she meets the hunky Augustus "Gus" Waters (Ansel Elgort), and a romance blossoms between them.

Gus has an artificial leg as a result of his own previous bout with cancer. Hazel introduces him to her favourite book An Imperial Affliction by the author Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe), now a recluse living in Holland. Gus helps Hazel connect with van Houten, who invites her to drop in on him and discuss the book should she ever be in Amsterdam. Despite Hazel's frail health, the relationship with Gus becomes ever more serious and soon they are joined by Frannie for a trip to Amsterdam, where complications await.

Directed by Josh Boone and adapted from the John Green book, The Fault In Our Stars is earnest in its intentions but also almost mechanical in its execution.  For anyone outside the target age group of 12 to 17, it's easy to appreciate the effort but difficult to fully invest in the obvious connect-the-dots story evolution. The attractive stars, the wistful narration, the modern caring parents, the terminal disease, the puppyish love, the trip of a lifetime to a European dream destination, and the caustic author who shatters the illusion that anything matters. Of course it all culminates in true romance and true tears due to true tragedy.

Boone makes the best of the material, directing with restraint and avoiding most of the obvious cliches, except for a jaw-droppingly obvious travelogue montage of  Amsterdam and a clumsy side-trip to Anne Frank's house where romance awkwardly erupts in the attic. He is helped enormously by Shailene Woodley, who does shine as Hazel and carries the film through all its patches, never overselling the tough survivor elements and displaying enough warmth as a believably precocious teenager. Ansel Elgort is not as convincing, Willem Dafoe pulls his performance from the scorched drawer, and Laura Dern is relegated to worried but nevertheless reasonably cool mom.

The theme of life and love carrying on and emerging from the wreckage of horrid disease is predictably uplifting, and the film carries its message on its sleeve: it's better to experience the full joys of life despite the inevitable moments of despair than to surrender to emotional numbness in anticipation of the end.

The Fault In Our Stars is efficient to a fault. It delivers on all its calculated promises with admirable quality, and does little else.






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