The Fault in Our Stars
Sometimes you need to sit in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and cry
Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley: Divergent) should be dead by now. A 17-year-old with terminal cancer, she has outlived her life expectancy. Because of a delicate condition that affects her lungs and requires her to wear oxygen, she stays home from school.
Fearing depression, Hazel’s mother forces her into a youth cancer support group. The sad stories and over-eager leader drive Hazel to distraction until she meets newcomer Gus (Ansel Elgort: Divergent). Charismatic, handsome and in remission, Gus is smitten with Hazel. He courts her, challenging her to break her routine and make connections.
Hazel is charmed but fearful of romantic entanglement. Distance is her way of protecting people from being hurt by her inevitable death. Her biggest fear is that her demise will ruin her parents’ lives.
Can Hazel find grand romance in her short stay on Earth?
Sure to join Love Story, Terms of Endearment, Beaches and The Notebook in the pantheon of ugly-cry movies, The Fault in Our Stars is not a movie to see when you’re out of tissues. Sobs from the audience, however, do not guarantee quality. A sad story, a beautiful, sad actress and swelling music can generate emotion aplenty. The real question is whether director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) has made a tearjerker that keeps tugging on your heartstrings after the credits roll.
Boone is half successful. His meticulous set design gives the impression that Hazel’s world is an Anthropologie catalog, a shabby-chic aesthetic that becomes ridiculous when it permeates every space in the film, even sculptures in parks. Hazel’s parents are permissive, supportive and implausibly perfect. Boone wanted to focus on the love story, and who could blame him? But developing the Lancaster family would have helped the audience understand Hazel.
The film finds its footing, and its tragedy, in stunning performances from Woodley and Elgort. Woodley is spectacular at making teen characters realistic yet likeable. She enthralled in the realistic teen drama The Spectacular Now and is a fantastic tragic heroine. Her terrified Hazel tries to cover her fear with humor and pathos. As her condition worsens, cracks show in her veneer. Woodley’s expressive eyes are a wonder as she speeds through a range of complex emotions.
As the romantic Gus, Elgort is a teen dream. His easy smile and open face make his persistent pursuit charming instead of creepy. He’s the anti-Edward Cullen, able to let Hazel navigate the relationship without pressure, assuring her of his support and love.
The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful, imperfect love story that whirls past plot holes and implausibilities due to two exceptional lead performances. But be warned: My seatmate joined several other audience members in crying nonstop, starting 10 minutes in.