Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

There aren't many faults in this star. 

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a sixteen year old girl suffering from cancer. Whilst attending support groups as recommended by her mother (Laura Dern), she bumps into Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a fellow cancer sufferer. The two hit it off immediately, becoming close and bonding over their mutual love for certain pieces of literature. With their affection for each other only growing while their sicknesses play increasingly difficult roles in their relationship, Hazel and Gus form an unbreakable bond within their limited years.

Book to film adaptations are tricky. It's so easy to compare one to other; films are commonly criticised for dropping content from their source material, or changing and adapting certain elements. Personally, I refuse to compare films to their source material. After all, why would you? Cinema and literature are two separate entities; whilst I understand people feel passionately about novels and stories, the film adaptation is an entirely different form of media. It's like meeting a family, and asking whether the offspring were "as good" as their parents. I am a big fan of John Green's novel, but I allowed myself to view this film as if I hadn't yet read his book, in order to permit myself to have an unaffected view on this adaptation. Whether you have read or the book, or whether you haven't, you'll find it hard to dislike this film.

I already understood Woodley as an incredibly talented actress, but this is her greatest role yet. She plays Hazel with this wonderful sense of vulnerability; whilst Hazel acts as if she doesn't care about her illness and her surroundings, we see this longing in her eye for a better life. Woodley nails this excellently; it's so easy to care about her character, and thus so difficult to watch Hazel go through what she does. Elgort also plays Gus well, even if his character occasionally comes across as annoying and immature. I'm not faulting Elgort's acting, which borders on sublime, but more the direction Gus' character was taken. Hazel acts as if Gus is this wonderfully intellectual guy, but it's difficult to see that in him. Gus' comic timing is faultless and he is brilliantly likable, but in some of the film's more serious moments, you almost just want to tell him to calm down.

Whilst this is undeniably a heavy film, it is laced with comedic moments, and scenes that hardly have to try to make you smile. Gus originally meeting Hazel's father makes for some brilliantly acted facial comedy, even if it falls a tad too far into conventional rom-com territory. But what I respected most about the comedy writing in this film is the way it manages to ease the humour through a pretty taboo subject, without becoming even remotely offensive. The writing feels real. The jokes about the illnesses of the characters all come across as the ways in which teenagers would react to their lives at this stage; the three central teenagers (completed by Nat Wolff's Isaac) joke and laugh with each other, and every line feels genuine. As they laugh, so do we.

But, where this film soars is its firm grip on the emotional level a film of this nature requires. The balance between upbeat moments and more upsetting ones is seamless, and whilst the film's entire final act is pretty heavy stuff, it feels natural. We've followed these characters' stories for 90 minutes, we need an emotional payoff, and this is handled perfectly. However, I found the more emotional scenes to come from moments between Hazel and her mother, rather than Gus. Laura Dern plays the role of Hazel's mother terrifically, and she sells the emotional moments with perfection. The film's greatest scene, though, lies in the Anne Frank house, during the couple's trip to Amsterdam. Whilst Hazel struggles to climb the stairs, we follow her upwards journey (both physically and metaphorically), played beneath diegetic audio quotes from the museum that reflect on Hazel and Gus' story. It's just beautiful to watch.

The Fault in Our Stars is a generally good film. For a story about such a controversial topic, and one perhaps not commonly covered in today's cinema, it is written and directed as if there is nothing here people could complain about. And in doing so, it oozes this infectious sense of likability. It's difficult to watch at points, and it whacks a hefty emotional punch throughout the final act, but everything beforehand is so enjoyable; it feels so real. Woodley is the star here. Her supporting cast are fantastic, but Woodley handled this role with such emotional availability that you just can't help but want her story to continue. It's not quite perfect, there are small character issues and just a few too many continuity errors to let slide, but for the film that it is, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story worth your time.

To Summarise: Aided by a powerhouse performance from Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars is a funny, touching story with the likability to match its strong emotional level.

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