The Fault in Our Stars Review

 By Wendy Faunce
Though it’s a story of star-crossed lovers reminiscent of Love StoryThe Fault in Our Stars has a truer message than the alarmingly false, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Instead, the movie emphasizes a quality over quantity message, related by Hazel Lancaster’s line, “I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity… You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
     Based on John Green’s YA novel of the same title, the movie tells the story of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters’ (Ansel Elgort) fight against cancer and its odds. Though riddled with cancer cells, the two manage to live a decade’s worth of adventures in one summer: becoming friends and sole confidants, traveling to Amsterdam, meeting a favorite author, and falling in love, while suffering disappointments, losses, and death along the way.

This movie has been praised by fans and critics as being a not-so-average “cancer/love story” movie and they’re right. Though I have not read the book, many who have claim that it is a nearly word-for-word adaptation, leaving fans mystified as they watch their favorite characters come to life on screen. Even the author is reported to have enjoyed it.

Shailene Woodley’s performance was the gem of the movie. Her character’s subtlety is incredibly engaging. Woodley seems to fit naturally into the role of a disillusioned teen with an authority complex and whose best friends (before meeting Augustus) are the words of a man she’s never met: “Pain demands to be felt.” Her slow evolution into a hopeful young woman who is “eternally grateful” for the small life she has been given compliments the drastic emotional roller coaster that is her story.

The scene in which she meets the man behind her favorite words, fictional author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), is any fan’s worst nightmare. For this shocking scene in which Hazel and Augustus discover Van Houten to be a drunken “douche pants”, Green embraced the phrase, “never meet your heroes.” Though terrible for the characters, this was Fault’s best scene. The combination of Dafoe’s aggressive and frightening performance and complex dialogue knocks the wind out of one’s lungs and leaves the mind spinning. The scene was as unexpected as it was riveting.

The scene in which Hazel finally acknowledges her love for Augustus is meant to lead up to the romantic climax of the movie, but instead is ill-timed and disrespectful. The two share their first kiss, making out in front of an audience… who applaud… while a girl’s voice reads Anne Frank’s diary… in the upper room of the Anne Frank house. The scene is meant to juxtapose Hazel’s cancer with the Holocaust, already an uncomfortable comparison, in order to convey that some atrocities are worse than others. It instead comes off as creepy and makes the characters ignorant.

The movie’s soundtrack crowded the movie. Not one song played to its end. The music flows from one song into the next into the next with disorienting speed. On occasion, lyrics do not match what the characters are talking about, a terrible fault in a movie that repeatedly emphasizes the power of words.

While the writers give a well rounded backstory to Patrick (Mike Birbiglia), a carpet-weaving man who is necessary to the plot for five minutes, Augustus’ and Hazel’s far more interesting friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) is given brief screen time and no backstory. He is a brilliant character, but is used only to create quirky situations for Hazel and Augustus. He also reveals one vital piece of information to allow a satisfactory ending to the movie.

In many instances, a movie characters’ falseness can be be forgiven. Because the movie is a work of fiction and must be entertaining, it is not expected to be entirely realistic. However, several unfeasible aspects threaten to pull audiences out of the story and let them think for a split second “this is not real,” the cardinal sin of any movie.

Both the Waters and Lancaster parents play unbelievably detached roles for caring parents of teenagers with cancer. Hazel’s are the ideal “cool” parents. They answer her dark humor with sophisticated sarcasm and treat her as an adult instead of a sixteen-year-old child. Though it is obvious that they care for their daughter very much, they know little about their daughter’s love story that takes up the majority of the movie. They seem to know and care little about Augustus are always conveniently out of the way when the two have their more revealing moments. Augustus’ parents don’t seem to be a part of his life at all. They barely exchange words with Hazel, never with Augustus, and appear three short times on screen.

The biggest flaw is that Hazel and August’s dialogue is far more eloquent than the average teen’s. Green and the scriptwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, packed their every sentence with as much meaning and articulateness as possible, as if forcing a “little infinity” into every phrase. Though the dialogue is sincere and beautifully written, it is the not the way that people, especially people of sixteen, talk. Hazel and Augustus’ lines often sound forced and one has to take time from the story to get used to their unnatural speech.

Though The Fault in Our Stars is not perfect, it is an emotional roller coaster of a far better caliber than the average YA adaptation. The story is engaging, the characters are unique, and the lessons learned are worthwhile.

VERDICT : Great
Though The Fault in Our Stars is not perfect, it is an emotional roller coaster of a far better caliber than the average YA adaptation.
Positives : Quality over quantity message, true to novel, Shailene Woodley’s subtle yet disillusioned performance, Willem Dafoe’s surprising character
Negatives : Confused soundtrack, misuse of minor characters, unnatural dialogue