In the world of Young Adult fiction, success tends to breed success. Literary best-sellers Twilight and Harry Potter turned into box-office smash hits almost instantaneously, taking both the movie and books to dizzying amounts of profit. The Fault in Our Stars, the fourth book penned by author and Youtube vlogger John Green and adapted for screen by Josh Boone, Scoot Neustadter and Michael Weber, is set to match this trend, having been at the top of the New York Times-bestseller list for weeks on end before making over 40 million dollars on the US box office opening weekend. Despite this, Fault is telling a very different kind of story to the fantastical works that marked it’s path, one that is more poignant, and ultimately, more human.
Meet Hazel Grace Lancaster (absolutely stunningly portrayed by Shailene Woodley), she’s 16, enjoys reading, music and wearing clothes with philosophical metaphors on them. She also has cancer. Through a support group her parents force her to attend, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man at the age of 17 whose cancer is in remission after losing his leg. They hit it off, and the story manifests itself in the wake of their young romance.
Now, that should be enough to tell you that isn’t going to be a happy film, and that this isn’t, necessarily, going to be a typical one either. While teenage love stories, or love stories with very teenage mentalities are nothing new, teenage cancer stories, at least in the movie world, are quite rare. In this case, the balance is struck beautifully very early between the weight that our protagonists constantly live with and the light-heartedness that comes with adolescence. While the situation is tragic, it’s hard not to crack a smile as they awkwardly flirt the way teenagers do and it’s harder not to join in whenever they themselves do the most impossible of things given the circumstances and laugh, often at humor aimed at their ever-present condition.
This isn’t to say that the film is incredibly light-hearted, or doesn’t revel in the tragedy that is knowing your humanity at such a young age; in fact, quite the opposite. There are regular junctions, whether they be off-hand dialogue, small nuances in the performance (such as Gus’ gentle limp as he walks) or bigger plot points, that serve as regular reminders that this doesn’t have a happy ending; whether it be within the confines of the film or after, these characters don’t get to walk away from this sort of situation. If anything, TFIOS plays into the struggle that Hazel, Gus and their cancer-having cohort Isaac (Nat Wolff) live with and uses a delicate sheen of wry idealism to compliment the dry wit they so often employ in order to show that despite living with cancer, they can still live full, happy lives.
Which is where the crux of the story lies; while they are living with a horrible, debilitating illness that so often destroys everything in it’s wake, they are are still alive and they are still people. They can make choices, such as choosing to visit Amsterdam, they can stand up for themselves, even if it’s against over-zealous parents, and they can fall in love and date, such as what happens over the course of this two hours. They are not their illness. This would be a touch crass in most other big budget films, but this isn’t most other big budget films. There’s a hard-boiled sense of reality behind every turn and obvious meticulous effort has been taken to make sure that, somehow, despite all the efforts taken otherwise, we almost forget they have cancer – only to remember at every turn that they do, and to feel, if only a fraction of it for a fraction of a second, the crushing reality they must do.
This is a brave movie to make, for all intents and purposes, and could have missed the point of the story entirely by sexing up the characters or changing their illnesses. Thankfully, neither of those happened, and what you get feels real and authentic. Bolstered by an absolutely sterling supporting cast which includes Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) as Hazel’s mother and Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as the bitterly dejected Peter Van Houten, The Fault In Our Stars is a refreshingly delightful, moving, emotional tale of young love in the face of huge adversity. Inter-weaving romance and tragedy with light touches of satire, drama and hope, this is a film which will make you want to believe the world is a wish granting factory, before reminding you almost bitterly that it simply isn’t, and that’s okay. Okay? Okay.
[easyreview cat1title=”The Arcade Verdict” cat1detail=”Remarkable and emotional, make sure to catch this in theaters. Bring tissues.” cat1rating=”10″]