The Fault in Our Stars Review: The Fault in Film Adaptation

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John Green’s best-selling novel is brought to life on the big screen with a sharp script and wonderfully tender performances. Shame about the cheesy mood music.

As any number of Lifetime Original Movies will tell you, cancer really sucks. The innate beauty of Green’s story, however, is that it knows this full-well and doesn’t make a huge fuss about it. His work is heart wrenching because of its authenticity and, in many instances, its humor. The world of the book is one in which lovestruck teenagers can crack wise about the oxygen tanks they lug around with them, or the prosthetic legs they walk on. These people are wounded, but they’re clearly firm believers in laughter being the best medicine.

As a film, The Fault in Our Stars aims to capture the same tone with mixed results. Fans of the book needn’t worry, though. This is not My Sister’s Keeper. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who worked wonders adapting The Spectacular Now, have conceived a crackerjack script that rarely strays from its source material. There are a few changes that are necessary in translating the text for the screen, but what’s important is that Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is still as snappy and sophisticated as ever, and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) remains the world’s most eloquent 18-year-old boy.

For those unfamiliar with the book, the story revolves around Hazel and Gus’ relationship after they meet in a cancer support group (led by a hilarious Mike Birbiglia). Hazel has thyroid cancer that’s spread to her lungs, and so she uses an oxygen tank to breath. Gus is in remission, but must walk around with a fake leg as a result of his battle. The film follows these star-crossed lovers as they bond over their mutual affection of a book, even going so far as to fly to Amsterdam to meet the author (Willam Dafoe).

Of course, despite its often lighthearted nature, this is still a story about people living on borrowed time. There are tears to be shed and fights to be had, and this is where the performances truly shine. As Hazel, Woodley is astounding. The actress has a knack for playing damaged characters, and it’s thrilling to see how effortlessly she transitions from effervescence t0 exasperation. Elgort, for his part, brings plausibility to Gus, a teenager who’s obsessed with metaphors and fears oblivion. The character still seems a little too good to be true, but Elgort does his best to make him seem as grounded as possible.

The only real weakness of The Fault in Our Stars arrives from the direction, which often slips into sentimentality. Josh Boone, whose only other credit is the drama Stuck in Love, takes a heavy-handed approach to the material that doesn’t always have the emotional resonance it wants to. There are a few too many scenes where melancholic indie-pop blares in the background to let you know, “this is sad.” There are a few too many close-up shots of the actors faces so we know exactly how they’re feeling.

Honestly, some of the best moments are the ones more simplistic in nature. Such as when Hazel has a confrontation with her mother (an outstanding Laura Dern), or when she and Gus finally come face-to-face with their beloved author Peter Van Houten with unexpected results. Here, there’s no sappy music, no frills. Boone let’s the story do the emotional legwork, making for something that feels much more true to life. I understand that it can be difficult to capture the tone of someone’s writing when adapting a book for film, but Boone should really learn to let the words speak for themselves.

Still, there’s a lot of greatness to behold in The Fault in Our Stars. It’s sure to please Green’s readers with its faithfulness, and anyone looking for another star-making turn from Woodley should buy their tickets right away. I can’t help but wonder, though, if Hazel Grace were allowed to see this cinematic retelling of her life, would she smile and tear up with the rest of audience, or roll her eyes at the melodramatics? Grade: B+


By Mike Papirmeister

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