“The Fault In Our Stars” isn’t a movie you recommend people go see. Two teenage lovers whose love blossoms after meeting at a cancer support group. You know teenager equals melodrama when it comes to love, and you know cancer means life and death. Even though the writing may be on the wall in your mind, this is a film that is more about how you choose to live life than death, which makes it worth the watch.
We first me Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) in an isolated state. She’s cornered herself off from the world as not to bring the pain of her inevitable death to anyone close to her. Her parents (Laura Dern, Sam Trammell) think she’s depressed and want her to attend a cancer support group that may give her help. That’s where she bumps into (literally) Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort).
Gus is a cornball. He has the worst pick up lines, and his syrupy sweet smirk could fill a pool. He seems to fall for Hazel the moment they bump into each other, and as overbearing as it is for the audience, its’ his outlook on life that draws Hazel in. He occasionally puts a cigarette in his mouth, not to smoke it, but to stare a tool of death in the face and metaphorically not let death have power over him. As the two get to know each other and share philosophies on life, they also share a love for An Imperial Affliction, a book by renowned author Van Houten (William Defoe). The ever eager to please Gus uses his Genie (a make a wish type foundation) Wish to meet their favorite author in Amsterdam.
It’s in Amsterdam that the movie finds its’ stride. This once in a lifetime opportunity would be cherished by anyone, but we know the stakes for this couple. Visually we see the beauty of the area in extreme wide, and wide shots with Hazel and Gus in the middle of it all. We’re on the ride as they meet Van Houten, and find out he’s not the most admirable person. We’re on the ride as they tour the Anne Frank house with its’ overt metaphors to a girl who is forever young. We’re on the ride as the two make their deepest connections, and tough discoveries.
As the film plunges into the third and final act we’re hooked. Every phone call has significance and subtext. Woodley proves that she can be forgiven for “Divergent” as a tentpole, popcorn movie for her imdb page. She’s grounded in the role and carries the film rooted in the naturalism and talent of a young actress worthy to watch. Unfortunately, her co-star Elgort diverges from her skill level to create his own awkward, faux charming character but it doesn’t put the brakes on the movie.
If you’re like me and haven’t read the book, you’ll enjoy the twist in the film. Sometimes it’s easy to run away from a movie with a heavy subject matter so that we don’t have to “depress ourselves”. Don’t let that be an excuse not to see this film. Isn’t that what we love the movies for? Cinema gives us a chance to reflect on all aspects of life through the lives of people on a two dimensional screen. If we don’t let the moment pass by, perhaps through that reflection we can make decisions on how we approach each day, while we have them. This film does just that!