Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a sixteen year old cancer patient whose mother believes she will benefit from going to a support group. Although Hazel disagrees, she goes for the sake of her mother, and meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Engort). The two bond over their shared experiences, and their shared admiration of the novel An Imperial Affliction. The more time the two spend together, the more nervous Hazel becomes, as she is sure her inevitable death will have devastating consequences on those she cares for.
Based on John Green’s novel of the same name, The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of cancer survivors from their point of view, focusing on the fear that their inevitable deaths will destroy the lives of those they love. The book was a best seller, and mostly well received, but something seems to be lost in translation between page and screen.
Shailene Woodley continues her streak of playing mature, insightful young women, fighting for life, love and understanding. Woodley allows Hazel to be strong and determined, while her love of the fictitious novel An Imperial Affliction belies her fear about the world she will leave behind. Ansel Engort – Woodley’s co-star in Divergent – plays Augustus as a cocky and, at times, unlikeable young man. Confidence and charm somehow turn to arrogance on screen, leaving the audience curious as to how the gentle and caring Hazel could be attracted to such a character. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell, as Hazel’s parents, do not have a huge amount to do, but there are times when their cheeriness feels forced and at odds with the world of the film. Willem Dafoe brings tragedy to the proceedings as author Van Houten, and is as caustic and vinegary as the rest of the film is sweet and sentimental.
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have, by all accounts, stayed remarkably faithful to the story told in the novel, but while Hazel’s interactions with her world are generally warm and engaging, it feels as though there is an emotional disconnect in the film. All of the elements are there for the film to be a classic tearjerker, but they never quite come together perhaps due, in part, to the film feeling predictable. There are also some odd choices made, such as juxtaposing Hazel’s struggle with stairs in the Anne Frank house with lines from Ms Frank’s famous diary, and Augustus and Hazel’s first kiss earning a round of applause from strangers. Implicitly comparing Hazel’s struggle with Anne Frank’s feels forced, disrespectful and a deliberate manipulation of the audience; the words ‘cry now’ may as well have flashed up on the screen.
The Fault in Our Stars is the first big budget film from director Josh Boone and, while the film is paced well and is surprisingly engaging, it does often feel manipulative, contrived and unnatural; not least Hazel falling in love with a character little more than an arrogant jerk.
The Fault in Our Stars is a great idea for a film – telling the story of life from the point of view of someone whose life is ending – and Shailene Woodley plays Hazel with grace and strength. With oddly drawn characters, however, some overly sentimental moments and an implicit comparison to Anne Frank, the twinkle of the film quickly wears off, leaving it imploding under it’s own weight.