Friday, July 4, 2014

The Fault in our Stars Review

I had not heard of The Fault in our Stars (2014) before having a friend suggest we go see it together at the theaters. I did a little research and it looked for all the world like an independent romance film cram packed with every romantic trope to ever be written for a chick flick. I begrudgingly went along to see the movie expecting a rehash of A Walk to Remember, but I was pleasantly surprised by a well written drama with some interesting and dynamic characters.
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) are two teenagers who share an sardonic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that transcends their physical ailments. Sixteen-year-old Hazel suffers from thyroid cancer and needs a portable oxygen tank to breathe adequately. Hazel is forced by her well intending parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) to attend a support group for teens with cancer. During one of the meetings she meets seventeen-year-old Agustus, an ex-basketball player and amputee. Gus had osteosarcoma, but he is now cancer-free after having his leg amputated. Gus's incessant flirting results in the two forming a relationship and falling in love, but the relationship is anything but miraculous given the disabilities each one has and the prospect of death looming over them.
One of my many complaints about The Bucket List is how lightly it takes the subject of cancer. The characters in The Bucket List seem to suffer from a cancer that is nothing like cancer; the movie is so optimistic about cancer that the writers can't possibly know anything about it. In most Nicholas Sparks stories, such as A Walk to Remember, the terminal illness is treated like nothing more than a sad plot twist that is thrown in with no reason other than to jerk tears. The Fault in our Stars, however, depicts cancer in a very realistic way in all of its depressing, terrifying, and painful glory. I expected a rehash of A Walk to Remember, but The Fault in our Stars takes the bold move of having both lovers have cancer. No, this is not a romance that has a tragic twist at the end, it's a tragic drama that has a love story in it. That alone makes The Fault in our Stars a much more solid and interesting story than A Walk to Remember or The Bucket List ever was.
The characters in The Fault in our Stars were really interesting. Hazel struggles with depression, being a burden to her parents, avoids connecting with other people, and feeling like a time bomb of emotional trauma to those around her when she inevitably dies. Under similar circumstances, I could see myself struggling with those very same issues; Hazel is very relatable. Gus is the quintessential optimistic cancer patient, he's the type you hear about overcoming terminal illness based solely on hopefulness and a desire to keep going. But even ominous reality of death and the oblivion that lies beyond it cracks Gus's buoyancy from time to time. Gus's cheerful brightness contrasts his rare meltdowns so starkly that it makes the reality of death all the more terrifying.
The only other movie I've seen Shailene Woodley in is Divergent.  She didn't exactly have great material to work with there. Woodley's acting skills really shine through here. She's amazing. She handles a tragic character beautifully and makes her portrayal of Hazel seem effortless. She's an actor to watch for in the future. I've only seen Laura Dern in Jurassic Park and in a small cameo in Jurassic Park 3. But I think she played one of the more impactful roles in the movie. We see this scene repeatedly in a flashback where young Hazel is on her death bed at the hospital and in great pain from the medical treatment of her thyroid cancer. Hazel's mom is trying to stay supportive and optimistic, but is in great emotional distress at seeing her daughter in so much pain and so near death. She smiles warmly to her daughter and tells her that she can let go and let the pain go away, and then turns to her husband collapsing into tears and cries because she won't be a mother anymore. While we return to this flashback several times, it doesn't become any less affecting. The acting is absolutely incredible.
There are plenty of romantic moments in The Fault in our Stars. At first they are predictable, cliché, and very cheesy. When Hazel and Gus first meet and he starts flirting I couldn't help but think, "Ugh... are they really doing that?" It wasn't anything I hadn't seen repeatedly in other movies, and yet before the end of each scene I caught myself thinking, "Aww... that's so sweet!" I couldn't help but get caught up in the romance between the characters. There were many times when it was cheesy, yes, but it was handled in such a way that I was not taken out of the story for an almighty eye-roll as I was in A Walk to Remember. The difference is these were characters I actually cared about and were invested in and the dialogue wasn't forced and trite. When romance is done well in a movie it can be good, but it usually is cheesy and full of lines that no one with any real eloquence would say. But the romance in The Fault in our Stars was good and solid, if a little corny sometimes.
I truly didn't want to like The Fault in our Stars. I fully expected a sappy Nicholas Sparks style of story; devoid of interesting characters, romantic dialogue that no real person would say, and a story so sickly sweet that you'd need to brush your teeth afterwards. But none of that was the case here. I genuinely liked all the characters, I actually liked the romantic moments in this movie, and there was some very real drama in this movie. The story is wise, funny, and heartbreaking without resorting to cheap clichés and exploitation. The sweetness of the romance is overshadowed by the dark prospect of death, and gives it a very down-to-earth depiction of cancer. It's not just the patient that is pained by it; this movie shows how it affects everyone the patient knows and how painful it is for loved ones to see them suffer. The Fault in our Stars is a good solid movie that is romantic, funny, and philosophical. I think that if you enjoy dramas and romance movies, this is one worth catching in theaters. Make sure you bring some tissues, though. I cried a lot during this movie. I even think this is good enough to justify owning a copy of once it is available on Blu-Ray.

Well written movies should get an emotional reaction from you, not necessarily sad ones. What's the most emotionally intense movie you've ever seen? What made you so invested in it? Comment below and tell me why!

1 comment:

  1. We only sometimes come along a book that truly moves us. Makes us experience pain, happiness and all other emotions that author tries to portray, and we ourselves begin to feel the tragedy, the fault in our stars is one such book.

    John Green with his way of writing and using concepts that I guarantee you, you would have never read anywhere entitles and enlightens you which such affect that you are bound to remember this book long after you are done reading it.
    I cant seem to recommend it enough, so buy it and be ready to fall in love with Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters.
    "The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves"