Review: The Fault in Our Stars
PLOT: Two terminally ill teens (Shailene Woodley& Ansel Elgort) meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. But with each getting sicker, will they be able to make the most of their time together before the clock runs out?
REVIEW: You could be forgiven if after reading my plot synopsis you assume THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a downer. Then again, doomed love stories have a way with audiences. How many readers were conceived after their parents went to see LOVE STORY? Or twenty years later, GHOST? Certainly THE FAULT IN OUR STARS seems primed to do the same thing, making it the date movie of the year. But theres more to it than that. Truth be told, I went into this expecting a kind of Nicholas Sparks story for kids being unfamiliar with book by John Green. To my surprise, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS turned out to be a pretty damn terrific little teen movie, not unlike another recent film that surprised me THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
Obviously, whether a romance succeeds or not on the big screen comes down to the chemistry of the stars, and this is where FAULT excels big time. In my review of DIVERGENT, I wrote that Shailene Woodley seemed out of place in an action movie, and I God forbid even compared her unfavorably to Jennifer Lawrence. While yes, she hasnt got the larger-than-life presence Lawrence has, at the same time Im not sure Lawrence would have been able to pull off something as nakedly sentimental as this, which really and truly plays to all of Woodleys strengths.
The key thing about Woodley is that shes likable. Theres something about her that seems innocent and fragile, and this is amplified here by the fact that she spends the entire movie hooked up to an oxygen tank, looking like she could slip away any second. But whats even better is that Woodley plays her without an ounce of despair, giving her an attitude and backbone that makes you as the audience relate to her rather than pity her. Its a tough part but she plays it wonderfully. Its in movies like this (along with THE DESCENDANTS, THE SPECTACULAR NOW and the upcoming WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD) that really makes you realize shes a star-in-the-making (although once the box-office receipts for this come in she may just be a full-on star).
Meanwhile, her co-star Ansel Elgort, is a revelation. Previously known for his part as the nice guy jock in the (bad) CARRIE remake and for (oddly enough) playing Woodleys brother in DIVERGENT, Elgort is insanely charismatic as the can-do survivor with an artificial leg and almost superhuman charm. Elgort is so likable that even a totally hipster trait where we walks around with an unlit cigarette in his mouth (explaining that if I dont light it, it doesnt have the power to kill me or something to that affect) is kinda cool rather than insufferable as it would have been for anyone else. The guys going to be huge.
Together, Elgort and Woodley are charming, believably portraying two relatively sheltered kids in the throes of puppy love. Theyre adorable, and once they start getting sick you wont be able to ignore the growing lump in the back of your throat, or maybe even that errant tear in your eye. Another winner here is Nat Wolfe whos so winning as Woodley and Elgorts soon-to-be-blind friend that hes already been snapped-up to star in the next adaptation of a John Green book. Lest you think the sentimentality is overpowering, Willem Dafoe shows up as a defiantly cynical, hard-hearted novelist who spurs on a trip to Amsterdam that takes up most of the movies mid-section. Laura Dern and TRUE BLOODs Sam Trammel also do nice work as Woodley idealized parents.
Another thing that works in the movies favor is the indie edge director Josh Boone (STUCK IN LOVE) tries to give the movie, allowing Woodley to drop a juicy f-bomb, letting the kids have sex, rage against their illnesses, and more making this feel at least somewhat true to life. The hipper-than-hip soundtrack is also effective, with a track by M83 (Wait) doing an especially good job at tugging on the heart-strings.
Obviously, this will be a tough sell to some of you, and its probably not a movie for cynics. However, if you want to see something with a lot of charm, a lot of heart, and a couple of really great performances than you should definitely give THE FAULT IN OUR STARS a chance. And, as far as date movies go, this is totally a winner.
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