The Fault in Our Stars

By on June 13, 2014
The Fault in our Stars

You know, one of the great joys of being a critic is finding that unintended diamond in the rough, that unexpected pleasant surprise you didn’t see coming. Going into “The Fault in Our Stars,” I honestly expected a glorified version of one of those god-awful Lifetime deadly-illness-of-the-week movies, at best with higher production values and bigger names. This is not that film.

Based on the best-selling and much beloved novel of the same name by John Green, the film is the latest in the seemingly never-ending line of Young Adult novel adaptations to hit the screen, but this one’s a keeper. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s still the stuff of a thousand Lifetime movies, but this is the rare one to ascend past its TV-movie roots and become something else altogether, and something much more impressive to boot, I might add.

For one thing, though the shadow of the big “C” looms large over the proceedings, the film is not without some unexpected developments, and plot twists you likely won’t see coming- unless, of course, you’ve read the book, I imagine. But what really made this stand out for me was the tone, which is refreshingly non-maudlin and strikingly straight-forward. There’s no soft-pedaling here, no glossing over what’s at stake.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort take in sme fine dining in Amsterdam in "The Fault in Our Stars." Courtesy of

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort take in some fine dining in Amsterdam in “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Courtesy of

As the lead character puts it: “I’m a grenade, waiting to explode.” Such is the sad fate of a young person with cancer, but the film wisely puts the emphasis on living one’s life to its fullest while you can, because you never know when it may all be over. As the same character puts it: “You never know your happiest day is going to be your last when it’s happening.” These kids make the most of their time, and it’s undeniably affecting.

What makes the film isn’t just the writing, though, it’s the casting. After being the rare actress to knock a Y/A adaption out of the park in decidedly cluttered waters with the also-surprisingly not bad “Divergence,” Shailene Woodley was already primed for next big thing status. With this film, she solidifies that lead, and given the film’s impressive $48 million haul this past weekend- it debuted at number one, and nearly quadrupled its $12 million budget- Woodley’s not going anywhere anytime soon. (She’ll also being anchoring the next “Spider-Man” film as the new Mary Jane next year.)

Woodley has an impressive grounded quality that was always better than some of her past projects would allow her to fully show, i.e. the cheese-tastic “Secret Life of the American Teenager” on ABC Family. I haven’t seen much of that critically-lambasted and much-ridiculed by “The Soup” show, but it was easy to see she was amongst the most talented involved, which I grant isn’t saying much. After a solid turn in “The Spectacular Now,” she hit one out of the park with “Divergence,” bringing a surprisingly down-to-earth quality to what could have easily been a threadbare “Hunger Games” redux.

She’s nothing less than mesmerizing here, as Hazel, the main protagonist of “The Fault in Our Stars.” Playing a ticking time bomb with a cancer inside ready to go off at any given time, she starts out the film drifting and depressed, in some ways, half-dead already. Enter Gus (Ansel Elgort), a charming fellow cancer patient who is in remission and well on the way to recovery, and determinedly upbeat, despite having lost a leg already to the disease. The two bond in a support group and the film proceeds from there, with Gus doing his damned to turn Hazel’s frown upside down, where many others have failed.

Needless to say, he succeeds, or we wouldn’t have a movie, but where the film goes from there is genuinely touching and often unanticipated, including a left-turn to Amsterdam featuring a wonderfully prickly turn by Willem Dafoe as Hazel’s favorite author and the reason for the sojourn. (As his assistant, I feel obligated to give a shout-out to the wow-inducing redhead Lotte Verbeek, of “The Borgias” fame- hope to see more of her, too.)

Of course, we all know this affair probably isn’t going to end well, and when it does, it’s admittedly a punch to the gut. Honestly, if this movie doesn’t jerk at least a few tears out of you, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. And yet, it feels completely earned, as the film takes the time to allow you to get to know the characters and fall for them as they fall for each other.

Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and Shailene Woodley give Justin Beiber a taste of his own medicine in "The Fault of Our Stars."   Courtesy of

Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and Shailene Woodley give Justin Beiber a taste of his own medicine in “The Fault of Our Stars.”
Courtesy of

Throw in some strong supporting turns from Laura Dern (reuniting with her “Wild at Heart” co-star Dafoe) and Sam Trammell (“True Blood”- and no relation to yours truly, as far as I know) as Hazel’s long-suffering parents, and an amusing role for Nat Wolff as Gus’ wily best friend, and you’ve got what may well be the best film about the most depressing subject matter I’ve seen in many a moon. If the book is half as good as the movie, I’m so reading it.

As it stands, you should see the film, even if the subject matter sounds unappealing. Yes, the film has its sad moments, but believe me when I say that they don’t sugar-coat things, and that there are plenty of fun, life-affirming moments to be found. The film treats the subject with respect without wallowing, and that’s quite an achievement for a film of this sort. This isn’t just a solid film; it’s an Oscar-worthy one, especially insofar as the two winning leads are concerned. It’s a class act all the way, and I’m giving it the rarest of grades from yours truly: an A+. You might shed a tear or two, but who doesn’t need a good cry now and then?

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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