The Fault In Our Stars, the adaptation of the John Green novel, kicks off with a statement by the film’s main character Hazel: “I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories. On the one hand you can sugarcoat it, they way they do in the movies and romance novels, where beautiful people learn beautiful lessons, where nothing is too messed up that it can’t be fixed with an apology and a Peter Gabriel song.” The other option, obviously, is to tell the truth and this is what, as Hazel says, the movie sets out to do. The truth here is the story of cancer patient Hazel, who’s terminally ill at the start of the film and struggles with her condition throughout. Dealing with a subject matter like this it’s quite clear the film will lack a traditional happy ending, but still the movie continually relies on the clichés it condemns right out off the gate, which makes The Fault In Our Stars an uneasy watch.
Essentially there’s nothing wrong with what the movie is striving for: to tell Hazel’s story, the tale of a young woman who tries to live her life despite the fact that cancer makes her life very hard. The way it goes about it is just way too manipulative, exactly like those movies from the film’s opening voice over: every moment is reinforced with a pop song or score that tells you exactly how to feel, a cheap trick that only hampers a strong central performance by Shailene Woodley. Woodley’s portrayal of Hazel once again reaffirms her status as one Hollywood’s youngest and hottest actress, because she shows tremendous range, nuance and is able to tell you everything you need to know by just the look on her face and her body language. But because The Fault In Our Stars feels the need to hit you over the head with how much of a tearjerker it is, it pulls you of the earnestness of Woodley’s performance as the Hazel character. It’s a simple case of overdoing it, an example of where less would have been much, much more. It’s shame because Woodley is easily the biggest reason why The Fault In Our Stars works to the extent that it does.
Then again: director Josh Boone seems to have been very occupied with creating the next big indie-feeling flick, instead of just letting his lead shine and the story breathe. The song choices, the score, the hand-drawn text balloons that pop up every time Hazel receives a text, the way the young characters talk… it’s all overwrought and like someone tried to make the new Juno, another severely overrated film that faltered because of the attention to style over substance. While there’s something to be said for the dialogue, much of which is lifted straight from the book, it makes the characters of the film way too quippy and hyperverbal, another element that distracts from the emotional heart of The Fault In Our Stars‘s narrative. The biggest offender here is Hazel’s friend Gus, a guy who loves to talk and is seemingly perfect, the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Ansel Elgort does the best he can with the character, but he’s not given much to work it, and the same goes for Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel’s parents, or Willem Dafoe as an author she worships. These people serve a function in the story, push and pull Hazel in various directions, but that’s about all they really do. Finally, during the third act, Gus seems to get some much-needed development, but at that point the movie’s too concerned with wrapping up its story and his new-found depth gets glossed over.
Ultimately The Fault In Our Stars is a missed opportunity. Had it focused on Woodley more, had it let her performance breathe more instead of piling unneeded sugarcoating and sentimentality on top of it, it would’ve been much more powerful. Now we’re left with a hypocritical and predictable film Woodley still manages to elevate, but not much more than that. 5/10