In the last decade, a younger, more self-aware and honest brand of indie romance movie has emerged. These movies, like Garden State, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 500 Days of Summer, and The Spectacular Now, combine quirky characters, hip soundtracks, melancholic atmospheres, and poetic imagery to create rewarding and powerful movies, far removed from derided Nicholas Sparks adaptations like The Last Song or Safe Haven. Despite its Sparksian premise, The Fault in Our Stars belongs in the same breath as those four modern classics.
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old cancer survivor who requires an oxygen tank to breathe. Her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) look after her in every way they can, wanting to make the most of the rest of Hazel’s time. Hazel doesn’t socialize much, but goes to support group meetings at her doctor’s behest. While there one night, she meets Augustus (Ansel Elgort), a fellow cancer survivor whose osteosarcoma is in submission.
There are other subplots to the movie, but The Fault in Our Stars is ultimately a story of the value of falling in love, even when the very concept seems pointless or extraneous. From the moment they meet, Augustus does everything he can to make Hazel happy and Hazel enriches Augustus’s life just by being herself.
Woodley is devastating and powerful as Hazel. After an incredibly memorable performance in last year’s The Spectacular Now, Woodley delivers another home run with a character who couldn’t be much more different. Dern and Trammell are both wonderful as Hazel’s parents, managing to be understanding, sympathetic, worried, and protective, all while finding dealing with a dying child. Elgort is perfectly likeable as Augustus, but he’s by far the weakest performer onscreen.
The work behind the camera is just as impressive at that in front of it. The screenplay is very faithful to the book by John Green, the soundtrack is a top-notch collage of modern indie sounds, and the direction by Josh Boone is adequate without being ostentatious.
If there is a problem with The Fault in Our Stars, it’s with its simplistic characters and familiar moments. The screenplay cleverly tries to avoid criticism early on by name-checking modern-classic romances like Say Anything…, but The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t feel original enough to be allowed to pick on its progenitors the way it does. There are scenes of tremendous honesty and originality, but also moments that feel stale or cliché. (It also doesn’t help that Augustus is so unflappably positive all the time. A third-act scene showing behind the armour comes too late to add a third dimension to the character.)
As anyone familiar with movies like Love Story or A Walk to Remember can tell you, romances involving terminal illness rarely end happily, and it’s fair warning to say there are a lot of emotional moments in the final act of this movie. Bringing a few tissues with you to the theatre wouldn’t be the worst idea. Regardless, the fact The Fault in Our Stars is sad should in no way dissuade you from checking it out. The movie takes you on an emotional journey, but the emotions are more real here than anything found in a Nicholas Sparks movie.