The Fault In Our Stars

Year: 2014
Studio: Fox 200 Pictures
Director: Josh Boone
Writer: Scott Neustadter/Michael H Weber/John Green
Cast: Shaelene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe

It would have been so easy to make this a mawkish, simplistic weepie, but the movie has two things going for it. Most of the heavy lifting had already been done by John Green's novel, and Shaelene Woodley and Ansel Elgort have enough chemistry in each other and the script to make us believe.

If you have a cynical bone in your body you'll be ready to snort derisively and dismiss it as a disease of the week midday movie – especially as it's machine tooled from the ground up as a YA venture – but (and I only recently watched Lady Bird, which is a much later film, so have a point of reference) at the very least the kids were more than just cyphers of self-absorbtion who treat the parents trying to give them a decent life like shit.

17 year old Hazel (Woodley) has as normal a life as she can while dragging around the oygen cannister that keeps her alive because of the cancer that almost destroyed her lungs (and her) in her early teens.

One thing Hazel is conscious of is how her impending and inevitable death defines all her relationships in life - from her friends to her loving parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell). The 'hand grenade' speech is as arresting and tragic as it is beautiful.

So when fellow survivor and irrepressible spirit Gus (Elgort) befriends and relentlessly courts her after they meet in her lame cancer support group, Hazel resists as much as she can.

But the theme of the story is not only about how we all deserve love no matter how healthy or sick and young or old, but that sometimes it's brutally inevitable, not caring how sick, healthy, young or old we are.

The first half of the story deals with that theme as Gus and Hazel find a happiness together she never thought she had the right to, and the second half deals with the crueller side of it – that love doesn't actually cure cancer and that in another way their sickness does define them, that they will have to deal with it sooner rather than later.

There's a whole subpolot about going to Amsterdam to meet the author of a cancer memoir Hazel has always loved (Willem Dafoe). When he turns out to be a cynical, mean-spirited drunk it seems to be setting up a lesson for Hazel and Gus to learn, and when he shows up to Hazel during a pivotal scene near the end of the film it seems to be the resolution of what he has to contribute to the story, but I'm not sure what the whole thing added.

Woodley and Elgort both give the roles their all, and you'll be carried right along with them in their pain, triumph and joy. The tone of the film does the best job it's probably possible to do to balance the extremely sad subject matter with frankness and charm, and if you loved the book there's every chance you'll love this too.

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