Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars review

Every once in a while, a tragic romance seems to captivate a generation. Love Story was big in the 70's, Ghost was a huge success in the 90's and The Notebook reduced Americans to tears in the early 2000's. With The Fault in Our Stars, it appears that there is now a love story to define this generation. The tragic, yet witty cancer drama based off of the book by John Green has become a sensation. The film took in $48 million last weekend and will likely be one of the bigger dramatic hits of the summer. And for good reason. The Fault in Our Stars is a conventional romance in every sense of the word, but it's an incredibly well-made film, a well-executed romance drama that succeeds on every level. Strong performances by the entire cast help and the warm, optimistic tone elevates the material as well. The Fault in Our Stars is just a very solid film all-around.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a whip-smart teenager who just happens to have cancer. She started off with thyroid cancer at a young age, which eventually spread to her lungs. Now, she has to walk around with an oxygen tank everywhere she goes. Only problem is that she's depressed. She has survived a lot but she does that death is inevitable. Her doctor recommends that she go to support groups and she does, much to her dismay. However, when she meets the charming Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), her fortunes might just be turning. Augustus and Hazel bond together and end up falling in love while also experiencing the horror and tragedy of cancer.

The Fault in Our Stars is a sad movie, but it is almost always an enjoyable one. The film has an optimistic view on life with cancer and really shows that cancer patients are just people with another obstacle in life. It clocks in at around two hours, but moves at a solid pace throughout. The tonally uncertain third act has some problems and the characters personality quirks wear thin after a while, but overall, The Fault in Our Stars is a nice change of pace from the action spectacles that have graced the screen so far this summer.

Performances are key to The Fault in Our Stars and the two leads do a very solid job with what they're given. The characters, on paper, are quirky and that can become a little tedious after while. Hazel is a little too pessimistic, but Shailene Woodley puts real emotion into the performance and you can feel it. Augustus' tendency to dangle an unlit cigarette out of his mouth and pontificate aloud like an 18th century scholar make him slightly tedious, but Ansel Elgort still plays him with a sweet charm that makes Augustus a fun character to watch. Laura Dern and Nat Wolff are the standouts of the supporting cast. Dern plays probably the most loving mother in cinematic history and Wolff is a charismatic young actor who adds a lot to a somewhat disposable supporting character.

For a movie about cancer, The Fault in Our Stars' greatest strength is that it's just good, breezy entertainment. This is a movie that you can watch for two hours without checking your watch once or wondering when it'll end. It's entertaining and captivating from start to finish. Director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) is a good storyteller and knows how to make the audience invested in the plot. The film is still rather conventional but you really feel for the characters throughout this movie.

Many fans of the book have tried to sell the fact that The Fault in Our Stars is a better love story because it has a sharp wit and an ironic sense of humor that most other sappy love stories don't have. And while it does have a sense of humor, the humor and the cutesy irony actually become tedious after a little while. It's good to have a sense of humor and it's good to have fun, but there were times where I felt that this movie needed to be a bit more serious.

*Mild SPOILERS for the rest of this review

For example, during the third act, a character's cancer comes back and spreads throughout their body. There's a really weighty conversation about this and the film is suddenly a lot more serious. A few scenes later, the three main teenage characters are egging a car and joking around. It was just too tonally inconsistent during the third act. There were moments of sadness, there were moments of humor and there were moments of nostalgia, but none of it balanced out well. It was just a little messy.

My biggest problem with the movie lied with the character of Peter Van Houten, played by Willem Dafoe. In the movie, Van Houten is the author of An Imperial Affliction, a book about cancer that Hazel reads over and over and over. Eventually, Hazel and Augustus find their way to Amsterdam to meet Van Houten. He proceeds to be a total jerk, belittling them and causing them to run off in tears. Van Houten is then introduced again at the very end of the movie to "redeem himself." The only problem is that he serves no purpose to the plot. There's just no reason for him to be in the movie. He's really only a plot device to get Hazel and Gus to Amsterdam. And there are millions of ways for Hazel and Gus to get to the city without wasting time on Peter Van Houten. From what I can tell, the Van Houten stuff is in the book also, which doesn't make this entirely the fault of the filmmakers. I just thought that it was all rather pointless.

The Fault in Our Stars is a breezy, extremely enjoyable movie with a messy, tonally inconsistent third act and a character that only adds extra fat to the movie. It's a movie that you won't remember for very long, but it's very, very entertaining while you're watching it. At its core, The Fault in Our Stars is a genuine, moving love story with beautiful characters, a strong soundtrack and a sad, tragic story. Woodley, Elgort and Wolff are all impressive in their roles and I have a feeling that we'll be seeing these guys for a long time to come.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                             (7.9/10)

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