Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars Review

I am a 30 year old man. My daughter is approaching 7, which means that she is closer to the target audience of this film than I am. According to the standard "chick flick" narrative, I am not supposed to enjoy this film, and honestly I noticed a few looks from various teenage girls that seemed to imply that I must have been dragged to the cinema against my will, as if I was begging to make a run for a different theater in search of some explosions and shit, but what people don't seem to realize is this: I just love watching good films, plain and simple. To label The Fault in Our Stars as some sort of lesser work because it was adapted from a novel beloved by girls half my age is a shame, because it means that such strong, confident storytelling and filmmaking isn't getting the respect it deserves.

The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, but not solely one of a young, romantic connection. The truly beautiful thing about this film and the source material by author John Green that it is adapted from is the fact that it has such a huge heart for not just the young lovers that serve as the focal point for the works, but all relationships that suffer from heartbreak when someone so young is faced with such an ugly disease, with long odds stacked against them. As a parent it destroys me to think of my daughter leaving this earth before I do, and the film illustrates this pain without ever being manipulative. It is a story filled with genuine authenticity and real emotions, a story that touches on thought provoking themes like the battle between logic and hope in regards to an afterlife, the concept of not seeking out friendship and love because your death would only bring those people sadness.

The screenplay doesn't bring anything new and flashy to the table because it is essentially lifted right off the pages and onto the screen, using mostly verbatim material from the Green novel, but while that sometimes may seem like lazy writing could instead be looked at with admiration. Anyone could take an already established piece of fiction and hack it to pieces to put their own spin on the material, to make their name and their ego rise above the rest, but it takes balls to admit that the original words are already pretty damn fantastic on their own and don't need much tweaking. What little that was cut from the novel on its journey to the screen was the appropriate fat to trim, as the film doesn't lose anything at all in comparison. I was a tad worried that some of the sections of dialogue featured in the book wouldn't translate well to film, coming off as a little too clean and "pretentious" (the most overused word in film criticism), and some may feel exactly that way, especially in regards to certain plot points like the metaphor Augustus literally puts between his teeth, but I never once felt a falter and I never once felt the urge to cringe.

Of course, this could also be due to the fact that the actors chosen to fill these roles were extraordinary, especially the astonishing and inspiring turn by Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, the lead of the film. I understand that the finer months of cinema are still yet to come this year, as Oscar season isn't truly rolled out until early October and beyond, but as of today Woodley is my personal front runner for award consideration in early 2015. Nothing ever felt phony or forced, and never once did she appear as an actress being paid to play a role. Woodley was the character, she felt the joyous nature of love, she feared the inevitable death and what it would do to her family, and she suffered the literal pain that was associated with something most people (including myself) take for granted like the ability to breathe. Shailene Woodley was absolutely magnificent here, the perfect choice for The Fault in Our Stars and the official moment that I opened my eyes and realized we were now witnesses to the rise of a truly special career. I felt the emotional power of cinema sitting in that theater yesterday because of the grace and sublime talents of Woodley, as she brought me to tears not solely through her words but also her mannerisms and the deep rooted anguish she expertly portrayed. I am humbled by how incredible she was.

That isn't to dismiss the other fine performances on display here, with Ansel Elgort bringing a clever confidence and charm to the role of Augustus, a character that seems adorably witty to the point of nearly being unrealistic, but his abilities as an actor kept him grounded and believable. The chemistry shared with Woodley throughout this film is undeniable. In the role of their best friend Isaac, Nat Wolff may have been given limited screen time but his presence was felt whenever the opportunity to shine was given. Isaac is a young man suffering from a cancer that has taken his sight, but he continues to make the most out of his life as he seems to recognize that his situation is shitty, but it amazingly could still always be worse. His ailments are awful, but a life without his best friend who stays by his side through it all is a far more scary proposal than what he physically faces. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell were cast in the roles of the parents of Hazel, and it was the moments shared between loving parents and the daughter they never wanted to let go of that truly broke my heart. Their pain as they face the strong possibility of having to bury their only child really resonated with me.

I am a 30 year old man and I openly cried at the cinema during The Fault in Our Stars, and I don't give a shit who knows it. It was a wonderful experience, and the best part was that the emotion wasn't cheaply extracted from me from a mediocre but manipulative film. I cried because the material deserved my emotional response, because the idea of losing someone that means that much to you, the idea of having to say goodbye to a friend, a lover, or a child is almost too much for me to handle. I cried because these fictional characters felt so damn real.

As I exited the theater, the experience almost felt therapeutic, the ability to release so much emotion while watching a film I had fallen in love with. I cried and I cried and I cried, and fuck did it feel good.



  1. You are not the first person saying the film was good. It did not appeal to me but I normally like the films you choose in your blog. I am gonna give it a try on Monday.

    1. I hope you enjoy it Dave, but I will admit I think I connected to it on a different level than many others. The reason it impacted me wasn't on a young love battling cancer level, it was more with the parents. Having my daughter and watching her grow up has made certain subject matters impact me harder and with more meaning, so the idea of an only child daughter battling such an illness cut me pretty deep.

      I think my score is a little enhanced for this reason, but I still back it as a good film regardless.