Tuesday 17 June 2014

Film Review: The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult drama starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Willem Dafoe. Based on the popular YA novel of the same name, it tells the story of Hazel Lancaster, a 17-year-old girl who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

Hazel is suffering from depression after suffering with cancer for most of her teenage years; at a support group, she meets a fellow sufferer called Gus. Reckless, handsome and determined to make the most of life, Gus sweeps Hazel off her feet and they find a deep, beautiful friendship through their illness.

The Fault in Our Stars is not an easy film to watch. As a film about teen cancer, this should come as no surprise. Raw and affecting, it's a emotionally-charged film designed to tug at your heart strings and reach for the Kleenex. It's good then, that the film doesn't exploit its leads. Rather than simply show us how heart-breaking the story is to drive sales, the film aims to add much more complexity and character to the deep narrative.

The two leads, Hazel and Gus, are written really well. They're three-dimensional people, and we connect with them at a very personal level. They're self-proclaimed 'star-crossed lovers', only not in the traditional sense. With their lives both being affected by cancer, they find solace in each others company and kick-off a beautiful friendship founded in their understanding of morality and fragility. It's tender stuff, that hits you where it hurts.

The two central performances aid in this boosting this powerful emotional core. Shailene Woodley (Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (Gus) are pitch-perfect, with Woodley in particular giving the best performance of her career so far, surpassing her work in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now. I thought Elgort was great also, even if his character is a touch too good to be true.

A performance that stuck with me was that of Laura Dern, who played Hazel's mum Frannie. The film allows us to connect with her also, as she watches her daughter's journey and battle with cancer. Willem Dafoe plays an author with whom both Gus and Hazel connect, and his performance is one of those great side-character roles which Dafoe nails so well, much like Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel earlier in the year.

Some people might take issue with the film's overuse of a teary indie soundtrack, and yes, it is very evident in places. At the end of the day, those are the kind of people (read: douchebags) who'll dislike this film on principle in the first place. If you don't go in for this kind of thing, you're better off staying at home. It's your loss however, as The Fault in Our Stars in one of the most original and refreshing approaches on the genre that I've seen in a while. It doesn't pander to its audience, and ensures that the hefty emotional blows hit home when necessary. And any film that opens up a dialogue on cancer in a way that is approachable for teens and young adults is alright in my books.

Speaking of books, how well the movie relates back to the original novel by John Green, I can't tell you as I haven't read it. However, the film didn't strike me as uneven, suggesting that the translation from page to book was well-balanced and pieced together. There were no looming omissions or scenes that didn't fit.

The Verdict: 7/10

The Fault in Our Stars does a good job of side-stepping exploitation, and instead tells its tale in a way that isn't patronising or sugar-coated. It's an emotional rollercoaster, one that wonderfully educates young adults on the uncompromising nature of terminal illnesses. Woodley and Elgort share great chemistry, and the end result is dark and thought-provoking, but strangely uplifting, tale of doomed lovers. 

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