The adaptation of author John Green’s bestselling novel, The Fault in Our Stars, has hit theaters and while the film does a lot of things right, there were a few major qualms I had with the story that kept me from loving it.
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a typical teenage girl with one major difference—she has cancer. It started in her thyroid and moved to her lungs. An experimental drug keeps the disease at bay, but her lungs are completely shot and she has to breathe with the help of an oxygen tank. On a visit to a cancer support group that her parents (Laura Dern & Sam Trammell) make her attend, she meets Augustus (Ansel Elgort) or “Gus,” who is there supporting his friend Isaac (Nat Wolff). However, Gus isn’t free of cancer’s touch as he has had his leg amputated to fight back the disease. Currently, he’s in remission. He is instantly smitten with Hazel, who is unsure if she can love Gus, likening herself to a grenade. A beautiful relationship develops between the two as they navigate not only first love, but several problems healthy teens can’t even imagine.
At its core, The Fault in Our Stars is a heartbreaking story. I was reminded a bit of Erich Segal’s novel Love Story, but in The Fault in Our Stars, no one is really trying to keep Hazel and Gus apart. The film rises and falls on the chemistry between its two leads. Woodley and Elgort make a cute couple on screen and the audience can feel the great chemistry between them. That bond sustains the film through parts that didn’t work as well for me narratively.
While Gus is a very charming and likable character, he seems almost too perfect—like less a real person and more a character written for a movie or novel. That changes as the movie goes on, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was too “character-like.” There are also some elements of the story that were a little unbelievable for me. The subplot with Hazel’s favorite author, Peter Van Houten (Willem DaFoe) stretched believability and I felt that Hazel’s parents were very underdeveloped as characters. Granted, this is Hazel and Gus’ story, but Hazel’s parents play an important part in that story. At times Trammell looked a little lost in scenes.
This film belongs to Shailene Woodley, who has quickly become one of my favorite actresses. She really shines in the role of the emotionally tough Hazel. Elgort—who incidentally plays Woodley’s brother in Divergent—is very good in the role of Gus. He plays the light stuff very well, but also rises to the occasion when the story gets darker. I won’t blame him for the way the character was written. Wolff serves mainly as comic relief as Isaac, a boy who has lost his eyesight to cancer. He does a good job here. Dern and DaFoe do well in their roles, and as in the case with Elgort, I won’t blame them for any of the script problems I had with their characters. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Lotte Verbeek as Van Houten’s assistant, Lidewij. She does a good job as the reclusive Van Houten’s connection to the outside world.
Overall, I enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, but I wanted to love it. The cast does a great job with the material, especially Shailene Woodley, but there were just some narrative hiccups that took me out of the film from time to time. Still, it’s a very good film and I recommend it for those who want to have a good cry this summer.