Movie romances tend to come with a certain formula, and that doesn't usually include main characters afflicted with deadly diseases. That’s just the first of many things that makes The Fault in Our Stars, based on the novel by John Green, stand apart from others in its genre.
At its center is Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old girl living on borrowed time after cancer and its side effects have robbed her of the ability to breathe on her own.
At the behest of her mother (Laura Dern), she reluctantly starts attending a cancer support group, where she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who’s now in remission after losing part of one leg to the disease.
If the tragic plot reminds you of schmaltzy Nicholas Sparks movies, think again.
Augustus’ easygoing and confident demeanor is an immediate attraction for Hazel, who starts to open her heart and mind to him.
If this reminds you of schmaltzy Nicholas Sparks movies, think again.
Whereas Sparks generally uses third-act tragedies as a tear-jerking mechanism, the prospect of death here is so constant that, paradoxically, it almost ceases to matter. What counts is the growing bond between Hazel and Augustus, no matter what fate may hold for them in the future.
It also helps that the story doesn’t treat cancer as a big scary mystery, but rather as just something that the characters have learned to live with in the years since their diagnoses. Talk about the disease is matter-of-fact and often lighthearted, without a twinge of hyperbole.
Much of the credit should go to writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who have developed quite the habit of writing unconventional romantic movies. In addition to Stars, they’ve also been responsible for (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now.
Even though Stars and The Spectacular Now were both based on novels, Neustadter and Weber were able to distil those books’ unique rhythms into script form, which is no easy feat. They’ve also found a way to talk about young love in a way that captures the exact feeling we all remember, something few movies are able to accomplish.
Just as she did in The Spectacular Now, Woodley makes her character immensely appealing by professing not to know how appealing she is. She has now established herself as the next go-to young actress in Hollywood, following those two and the blockbuster Divergent.
Elgort is a relative newcomer, but this role should catapult him to the top of casting directors’ lists, too. He has just the right mixture of sensitivity and charisma that Augustus requires; without him, the story just wouldn’t work.
The Fault in Our Stars earns every emotion that it evokes, turning a story that could be depressing into one that’s romantic, life-affirming and memorable.