Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
Director: Josh Boone
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: June 6, 2014
Hazel & Gus: Duo, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Romantic Divergent Classic Heroes)
Cancer: System, N-N, Ant (Nature Mindless Villain)
Scott, there’s not a flaw in Fault In Our Stars.
There are no faults but plenty of stars. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to teenage cancer survivor Hazel (Shailene Woodley). She’s had thyroid cancer and it damaged her lungs so she must travel with an oxygen tank. Her mother encourages her to go to a cancer counseling meeting where she meets slightly older Gus (Ansel Elgort) who lost a leg to cancer the previous year. Hazel is trying to keep her distance but Gus is persistent and with humor and charm wins Hazel’s affections.
Hazel’s dream is to speak with the author of her favorite book. She has many questions to ask this man, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), but he lives in Amsterdam and won’t answer her queries unless she travels to The Netherlands to meet him. At first her medical condition and her parents’ limited finances prevent her from traveling overseas, but Gus arranges with a make-a-wish foundation to make her dream of meeting Van Houten come true. The journey yields bittersweet surprises as the two star-crossed lovers attempt to meet their many challenges.
Scott, I didn’t know what to expect from this movie. I knew it was based on a Young-Adult novel that was very popular. I kind of expected a saccharine, glossed-over presentation of young love in the shadow of cancer.
I was pleasantly surprised when the story unfolded to reveal a thoughtful and charming story about young love that was … tinged by the shadow of cancer. We last saw Shailene Woodley in last Spring’s Divergent where she played a young girl in a dystopian future world. So much of today’s Young Adult fiction is cast in just such a world that to find a story that dealt with real people in real situations was refreshing and welcome.
Greg, I agree that the quality of this film is surprising. Given the topic, the movie could easily have devolved into a forgettable made-for-TV level product. But it didn’t. We’re treated to two stellar performances from Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, whose moving depiction of two cancer-ridden teens in love is deeply inspiring. These are two great characters whom we like for their intelligence, courage, and realism. They were highly convincing in these difficult roles to play.
Hazel is the primary hero of the story, although one could argue that she and Augustus are duo heroes. I think of Hazel as the main hero because she narrates the story and also because she is the character who grows and evolves as events unfold all around her. Hazel is transformed by Augustus and also by Anne Frank, whose recorded voice in Amsterdam inspires Hazel to hold onto hope and savor the beauty and love all around her. The hero journey evokes painful emotions but somehow manages to be uplifting, too.
I agree. Hazel is the hero of the story and she is acted upon by her catalyst Gus. She starts out as isolated and wanting not to get involved in people’s lives. She considers herself to be “a hand grenade waiting to explode,” taking the lives of those around her in her wake. It is Gus’s determination to love Hazel whether she wants him to or not – and that cracks her shell. Once he gets under her skin she starts to grow and flourish.
The villain here is either time or cancer. Of course, the two are connected. We feel that Hazel can’t survive very long in her condition. And we also witness her laboring to climb the stairs at the Anne Frank house and wonder if she’ll make it.
Regardless of whether time or cancer is the villain, I was pleased that the storytellers gave Hazel and Gus a true opposition character in the form of author Peter Van Houten. He is a recluse after having written his novel based on the death of his daughter from cancer – a book that Hazel is obsessed with. When she meets him he is rude to the extreme and completely self-absorbed. He was a good villainous character, but not the main villain of the story.
Greg, it is true that cancer is the villain of this story. It is tempting to say that the author whom Hazel adores, Peter Van Houten, plays a villain role. But Van Houten is very much a character reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s character in Maleficent. Like her, Van Houten is embittered by loss and is redeemed by love. His rude, jerky behavior actually helps bring Hazel and Gus together, as they consummate their love shortly after their dark encounter with him.
Yes, nothing says redemption like teenage sex. I really enjoyed this film, despite the crowd of weeping teenage girls in the audience. Many have called The Fault in Our Stars the Love Story for a new generation. And I agree. It was a thoughtful and masterfully crafted story (based on the real life of Esther Earl whose video blogs can still be found on YouTube despite the fact the she succumbed to her cancer in 2010). I give Fault 5 out of 5 Reels.
The hero story is hard to deny. Hazel starts out pushing everyone away and ends up loving more than ever. I hate to say that the ending is telescoped from the beginning, but still it was a powerful drama worthy of viewing by those of any age. I give Hazel 4 out of 5 Heroes.
I’m having a tough time rating cancer on our villain’s scale. It follows the pattern of the hidden villain, never becoming visible yet affecting our heroes at every turn. It is an insidious disease (or cluster of diseases) and is hard to wrap your mind around it. The cancer we see on-screen is muted and sugar-coated. Compared to the profound presentation of other diseases we’ve seen recently (witness Dallas Buyer’s Club) I can only give cancer as depicted in The Fault in Our Stars 2 out of 5 Villains.
The Fault In Our Stars directly tackles two of the heaviest themes in storytelling: Love and Death. Such a jarring collision with these topics could have yielded sappy, disastrous results, but this movie has the biggest heart of any film I’ve seen in years. Woodley and Elgort carry the show masterfully and made everyone in the theater cry. I give this film a heartfelt 5 out of 5 Reels.
Every hero sets out on an important journey, and in The Fault In Our Stars Hazel’s blossoming relationship with Gus and trip to Amsterdam transforms her on many different levels. Hazel is an unforgettable hero, and Gus is her unforgettable mentor, lover, friend, and symbol of life and hope. The hero and her friends, allies, and companions are all present in full-form and are quite moving. I give Hazel 5 out of 5 Heroes.
As you note, Greg, the film’s villain, cancer, is hard to evaluate. Cancer doesn’t have an intriguing backstory like a human villain would have. Cancer doesn’t have interesting facial expressions, quirky mannerisms, henchmen, or a diabolical laugh. But cancer is the Adolf HItler of diseases, a horrific affliction that attacks and torments its victims on every conceivable level. The Fault In Our Stars does a fine job illustrating all the terrible ways that cancer destroys a human. It’s hard to assign a villain rating but I’d say this film’s effective depiction of cancer deserves 4 out of 5 Villains.