Saturday, June 7, 2014


"The Fault in Our Stars" the movie owes a lot -- almost everything -- to "The Fault in Our Stars" the best-selling YA book. That's because the words of John Green are so good, refusing to become a schmaltzy, cliched romance about two cancer kids. Yes, it's a romance about two cancer kids, but it is the furthest thing from both schmaltzy and cliched. And the film version -- directed by Josh Boone and wisely adapted from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writers behind the coming-of-age indie "The Spectacular Now" -- follows suit. There is a bit of noticeable dumbing down, but that can easily be forgiven as you watch the way the screenplay still tackles heavy themes of death, illness and the sometimes inconsolable weight of loss.

Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) is a 16-year-old girl whose thyroid cancer has forced her to perpetually wear tubes in her nose and drag around an oxygen tank. She hates her cancer. She's snide about it and scolds her lungs for sucking. But what she hates even more than her illness is the way she's forced to deal with it. Her well-meaning mother (Laura Dern) makes her go to a support group held in the "literal heart of Jesus." It's eye roll-inducing for her -- that is, until the charming Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) shows up and immediately, unrelentingly locks eyes with Hazel. And the rest, they say, is history.

It's no spoiler to say these two start falling for each other. What worries Hazel, however, is that she's a grenade ready to go off and will inevitably hurt all those around her. She doesn't want to do that to Augustus whose osteosarcoma, while it took one of his legs, is in remission. A literary obsession of Hazel's, a novel called "An Imperial Infliction," whisks the two off to Amsterdam to meet the book's author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) where even harder lessons are learned.

This is a film focused for teens, and it rightfully focuses on its teen actors. Boone's direction is subtle and unobtrusive, allowing the young cast to flourish and linger in scenes. Shailene Woodley has already proven herself both wonderfully nuanced and versatile and plays Hazel with no ounce of obvious acting with a capital A. The chemistry between her and newcomer Ansel Elgort (they play siblings in the "Divergent" franchise) is equal parts heart-warming and electric, and together they make Hazel and Augustus screen characters to remember. And then there is Augustus' buddy Isaac, played by Nat Wolff of "Palo Alto," who stands out all his own.

Like the book, Boone's "The Fault in Our Stars" doesn't shy away from sentimentality but counterbalances it with acerbic wit and biting dialogue. The undercurrent of tragedy is laced with a keen comic spirit throughout. None of it is suspicious manipulation and emerges organically, the laughs and the tears. And my, how you'll cry. But just be happy knowing it's all so earned.

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