Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

3 Oct

A Fault In Our Stars

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I was forced (er, “suggested”) by a friend to read John Green’s popular young-adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” because it was one of her favorite books and the film adaptation was coming that summer.

Being the pushover that I am, I agreed to read it…and I’m glad I did. No dystopian futures. No contrived love-triangles. No vampires. Just a nice little romance between two young people…who have cancer. (YIKES!) It was written with a sly wit, the characters were likable, it was melancholy with realistic issues with the comic relief thrown in at just the right time, and it made me feel something overall.

And thankfully, I could also say that about the film adaptation.

I joined my friend to see the movie on opening day in June 2014, and I was impressed. It was handled very delicately with just the right tone to fit…though judging from the loud sobbing from the teenage girls sitting in the row behind us in the theater during the final act, I’d say it did its job TOO well.

Our narrator is Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a teenage girl who, because of her cancer, uses a portable oxygen tank to breathe. She starts up a relationship with a charming teenage boy named Augustus (or “Gus,” played by Ansel Elgort), a former athlete who had his leg amputated due to cancer risk. This guy is too good to be true (call him the Manic Pixie Dream Boy), but then again, he does have his secrets, most of which are revealed late in the relationship (and the film). Both of these characters know that their relationship is surely doomed, and they actually talk about it, which makes up for the overabundance of cuteness that’s set up in the former half of the film. Thus, just as “50/50” worked because it used humor to lure the audience into serious territory, “The Fault in Our Stars” used charm and cuteness.

There are some good funny moments and light comedy in the screenplay. The lighthearted conversations between Hazel and Gus are cute, some of their text conversations are funny, and there’s an effective comic relief from Isaac (Nat Wolff), who uses humor to cope with having just become blind–Isaac deserves his own movie.

I wrote in my original review, “it could work if the writers are smart enough to know what to leave and what to keep.” Who wrote the screenplay? Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, probably my favorite screenwriting duo working today–they also wrote “500 Days of Summer,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Paper Towns” (another adaptation of a John Green novel), “Our Souls at Night,” and “The Disaster Artist.”

At times, they’re so faithful to the novel that I think scenes could have been cut from the film (especially the little sidetrack of a backstory for the therapy-group leader–seriously, was that even needed?). But…eh. At least the strengths of the original source are still in the movie.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is sweet, well-acted, and with enough humor to keep me entertained and enough melancholy effectiveness to keep me invested.

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