It is easy to be drawn into a film about young people who have their lives change radically because of an incident or event. It may even be easier to be drawn into it if there is a romance that is borne from it. In addition, for something that has been touted for emotional impact as The Fault in Our Stars has, one would make it out to be the cinematic best thing since sliced bread.
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now) adapted the John Green novel which Josh Boone (Stuck In Love) directed. Hazel (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants) is a cancer patient who is forced to use an oxygen tank as a result. She is somewhat cynical about life and has been diagnosed with cancer. At her mother's prodding, attends support groups for other young people who have been similarly diagnosed. She meets Augustus (Ansel Elgort, Divergent), who has already had a portion of his leg amputated to cancer, but handles it and life with a certain defiant flair. The friendship turns romance and we see how it affects the other over the course of the film.
To Woodley's credit, she has a tendency for achieving chemistry with a variety of actors, whether it is Miles Teller (in The Spectacular Now) or Elgort here. The latter almost harkens to a modern day John Cusack in ‘80s teen romance films, channeling a mild degree of nervousness but ultimately is extremely comfortable with the cards he has been dealt in life. Their romance is inevitable and generally charming. She also delivers a final act monologue with the right amount of emotion and may bring a tear to the most cynical eye, and her voiceover that starts and ends the film is effective. The story is impressive to watch how the unique bond is shared between young people who have cancer, yet there is a small irony to not being able to share it with them in more serious or dire moments. When a hospital visit comes, the parents tell the other person ‘we'll tell (them) you came by,' as if they cannot handle seeing their friend in a serious circumstance. Cancer day to day is not serious enough?
While the story has some interesting moments, there are other moments in it that have a lack of focus. For one thing, the story seems to not be entirely sure of what to do with Hazel's parents. Portrayed by Sam Trammell (True Blood) and Laura Dern (The Master), the story waffles between portraying them as supporting and stereotypical ones that say no in some weird sense of protecting their daughter. When Hazel and her parents have conflict it is forced, and this comes through in no better scene than one of the final ones in the movie. When The Fault in Our Stars tries to act like a teen film occasionally despite the gravity of the subject, it is unnecessary.
The movie does something questionable, even objectionable, with perhaps the most important part of it. I understand that the moment in question is from the book, but there seems like there is a general unease with setting such a moment in Amsterdam (where Hazel, Augustus and Hazel's mother) which starts out unintentionally funny then it just gets…awkward. And people start applauding as well. For such a moment that serves as a lynchpin to The Fault in Our Stars, it's just weird and less than romantic.
Woodley is solid in the role and Hazel's transformation over the course of the story is good. Elgot is fine, though his character's arc tends to be a little poorly executed on his part despite his engaging and charming first act. And at an initially intimidating 125 minutes, Green does a good job of moving things along without having the viewer check their watch. While the ending is long and forced, it does not distract from the overall story.
Sitting in a theater full of people, I did wonder what it was about The Fault in Our Stars that was getting people to cry buckets though. Don't get me wrong, it is emotional because of what the third act ultimately becomes, but compared to 50/50, where the main character goes through the experience from beginning to end, The Fault in Our Stars gives us Hazel who just did not have the same sort of resonance for me. Maybe it is because I am no longer 16 or have ever been a woman, or maybe the cancer in 50/50 is a surprise, compared to here where the illustrations of it almost have this aggressive need to remind you of it, but I could not get immersed deeply into Hazel's arc compared to other people.
Perhaps in their midst to make something that is the newest or best version of Love Story, The Fault in Our Stars forgot to do the little things well also. But it feels average and (and I think this cannot be stated enough) the moment where Hazel and Augustus became Hazel and Augustus is almost as if a B story in Seinfeld was taken seriously. Speaking as one who is married to someone who bought a signed copy of the book, she was more disappointed by it, I was more underwhelmed than anything else.