D: Josh Boone. DP: Ben Richardson. W: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (based on John Green’s 2012 novel of the same name). Starring: Shailene Woodley/Ansel Elgort/Nat Wolff/Laura Dern/Sam Trammell/Willem Dafoe/Lotte Verbeek.
At this point no one can deny the box office potential of a young adult fiction film adaptation. However, in a post Twilight and Hunger Games landscape the competition is fierce. With disasters like last year’s Mortal Instruments the turn away from large franchises might find some success with a film like The Fault in Our Stars.
Based on John Green’s new novel, the film harkens back to the basic chemistry of teenage existence. Two youngsters who find a connection and try to navigate their new love. And in this case the leads happen to have cancer, meeting in a cancer support group. Yes tears are inevitable, tears that for me, came in the cinematic experience rather than when reading the book. In a rare occurrence I actually prefer the film to the book, mostly for its visceral quality.
The pitfall of this genre is the hidden borderline between teenage drama and melodrama. Luckily, The Fault In Our Stars never crosses into that territory. Written by the screenwriting team behind The Spectacular Now (2013) and 500 Days of Summer (2009), the script’s ability to handle the subtle and the overt in Green’s plot is admirable. (Both of those films are superior to this one thought.) The film is driven by the chemistry of its leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Playing siblings in this year’s Divergent, the pair have an ease about them that shines through the painful context of their courtship. Woodley chopped her hair off to play Hazel, which gives her wiry frame a prepubescent look. Hazel has been through a lot of grown up pain, but has not experienced the emotional life to match it.
The Fault In Our Stars is also loyal to its source material, removing excess story lines and characters that helps keep the film focused on the leads. The stylistic choice of using test bubbles to show the teens texting each other also helps the flow of the story and counteract Hazel’s voice-over. Yet the leads’ charms cannot distract from the obvious use of musical ques to jar the audience. The poppy soundtrack actually distracts at some beautiful moments, especially on the couple’s trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favorite writer. Played by Willem Dafoe who wasn’t nearly as grotesque as one would imagine from the book, but thankfully didn’t gimmick it up. Ultimately the film doesn’t bring much that is new to the teen landscape, but at least puts down the weapons and creatures in favor of some feelings.