20th CENTURY FOX (2014)

 

Director: Josh Boone

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe

Cancer is a bitch. Everyone knows it and no one more so than Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager suffering from terminal thyroid cancer that has made its way into her lungs, requiring her to carry an oxygen tank wherever she goes. She has had treatment which will indeterminately extend her life span.

 

Based upon the highly successful novel of the same name by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars is a charming, emotional movie that doesn’t resort to exploiting the subject matter and remains grounded in a human story throughout. It remains largely faithful to the source material, and takes no great leaps away from it to change the story to Boone’s satisfaction.

Centering on the story of Hazel, the part is played with wonderful grace and authenticity by Shailene Woodley. Her performance is a terrific balance of wit, sensitivity, pain and hope blended together to create an endearing character that throughout you will to succeed. She is the star of the movie, and throughout manages to elevate her performance – and it’s her best performance to date. Ansel Elgort is great as the charming, spontaneous Gus, who wants to live life for the day and embrace what he has, and connects on a deep level with Hazel. His character has a believable quality, and handles all that is required with the right emotional quality. Dern and Trammell deliver engaging performances as the parents, who thankfully aren’t stuffy and over-protective. Finally, Willem Dafoe brings an edge to the movie as only he can.

 

The movie, as mentioned before, does not intentionally set out to exploit its sensitive subject. Cancer is a topic that is hard to portray right, and can fall into overly-sentimental and a tasteless use of the plot device. However, the movie handles the topic well, I believe. The teenagers know their fate, and are intelligent enough to know it and the initial conversations about their conditions are handled well and to the point. The parents in the movie are not horrifically overbearing, reminding us of the horror of the illness, instead they watch from a distance, cautious yet curious, happy that their daughter is seeking her own path. Even as the sadness begins to creep into the movie, it is handled with a solemn dignity, and the film’s third act beats and conclusion aren’t overblown, overdramatic affairs – no, they are delivered as quiet, understanding and poignant moments, allowing the viewer the chance to accept what is happening. Credit to director Josh Boone for showing restraint is his adaptation.

 

The second act in Amsterdam helps to break the story up and stop it from straying into familiar territory, or movie crushing naff second act syndrome. Though not fully filmed in Amsterdam (Pittsburgh filled in for certain shots and interiors) it offers a nice look at the Dutch city and the romantic lakes, bridges and walks available (I don’t work for the Amsterdam Tourist Board) and provides a fitting backdrop for the story. The appearance by Willem Dafoe offers a cynical snarl to the proceedings, offsetting nicely to what was seen previously, and he plays his role with effective aplomb.

 

One of the movie’s stranger moments occurs in Amsterdam, inside Anne Frank’s house/hiding place in fact (again, recreated in Pittsburgh) as the two star-crossed lovers embrace finally to the sounds of Anne Frank’s hopeful commentary. That the watching visitors applaud the youngsters was a nice touch, the idea of having this happen in a place where a girl and her family were forced to hide from brutal Jew-hunting Nazi’s before being dragged to their concentration camp deaths was a weird idea, and for me, the film’s main fall down.

 

By not straying into sentimentality and beating us with the subject matter, The Fault in Our Stars manages to successfully separate itself from similar films and puts it on a higher plain. Driven by fabulous lead performers who lend genuine believability and credibility to their roles, the controlled story and emotional beats expertly placed, the movie will make you laugh, hope and yes, it will make you cry. Get your tissues ready before you press play.

December 2nd 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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