The Fault in Our Stars

Rating: Dad Rating = 7 out of 10, Daughter Rating = 11 out of 10

Cast:
Shailene Woodley as Hazel
Ansel Elgort as Gus
Nat Wolff as Isaac
Laura Dern as Frannie
Sam Trammell as Michael
Willem Dafoe as Van Houten
Lotte Verbeek as Lidewij
Ana Dela Cruz as Dr. Maria
Randy Kovitz as Dr. Simmons
David Whalen as Gus’ Dad
Milica Govich as Gus’ Mom
Emily Peachey as Monica
Emily Bach as Monica’s Mom

Directed by Josh Boone

Summary:
“The Fault in Our Stars” should please fans of the book as well as fans of Shailene Woodley. The film has an interesting angle by adding cancer survivors to the romance, but it is ultimately made for women under 30. If you don’t fall in that category, you won’t appreciate it on their level.

Story:
“The Fault in Our Stars” is based on the book by John Green.

Hazel has had a rough childhood. At a young age, she was diagnosed with cancer and spent most of her youth fighting back from the brink of death. Though Hazel has responded well to experimental treatments, she still must live on oxygen. Now as a teenager about to graduate from high school, she finds herself depressed. She’s depressed that she doesn’t have enough energy, that death constantly looms over her, and that she can’t have a relationship like other girls her age.

Concerned with her daughter’s well-being, Hazel’s mother Frannie encourages her to attend a cancer patients’ support group. Initially completely disillusioned by the group, Hazel eventually meets another survivor named Gus. Outgoing, fearless, and flirtatious, Gus is everything that Hazel is not. Of course, they are soon attracted to each other. As the two get to know each other, they are drawn closer together by a quest to meet Hazel’s favorite author, but their journey will take them in directions they never dreamed possible.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.

What Worked:
I had never heard of “The Fault in Our Stars” before. And unless you’re female and under 30, you probably haven’t either. But one day, in the middle of a meeting, my phone started going nuts as my daughter texted me begging to get advance screening tickets for this film. This was odd for several reasons. The first is that my 15-year-old daughter generally doesn’t care about movies. Go figure considering I love them, but I guess a kid has to rebel somehow. But she also hasn’t been this excited about a book or movie since “The Hunger Games.” So I immediately took notice. We attended a special screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston. As I walked in, the entire theater was 100% packed with women, young girls, and a handful of men who looked like deer stuck in headlights. I guess this was how my wife felt when I dragged her to the Star Wars movies. As the movie started, I finally got to see what all of the excitement was about.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is your typical teenage romantic fare, but the twist of them being cancer patients definitely gives it a unique angle. These are star-crossed lovers who are living on uncertain terms and they react to that in different ways. Some go into depression like Hazel, others are determined to seize the day like Gus. They question the meaning of life, if there is life after death, and what life will be like for their loved ones once they are gone. That gives weight to their relationship that a lot of other romances lack. And the fact that these are children who have had their youth, and possibly lives, cut short gives them a unique perspective that many adults lack.

The cancer angle sets this film apart, but I was concerned they would make light of it or at least trivialize it in a weak effort to give weight to the story. I was especially sensitive to this as a family friend recently had a child go through the pain and suffering of cancer treatment. Using that horror to sell a teen romance did not sit well with me. But as I watched this film, I found that they treated the topic of cancer with an appropriate mixture of respect, humor, tears, and laughs. They did not trivialize or gloss over the pain associated with cancer, but they didn’t dwell on it either. The bigger focus is hope and making the most of whatever time you have. That’s encouraging to see while other teen romances never aspire to anything greater.

Shailene Woodley continues to shine in ‘Stars’ as Hazel (see what I did there?). She’s funny, relatable, and a good ‘every-girl’. She also has a knack for showing maturity beyond her years, and that’s a key part of her character here. Yet she still behaves like a typical teenage girl as she texts her friends, is mortified by her parents, and eyes ‘cute boys’. I found her character particularly charming when she was willing to read military sci-fi in order to see what this boy she is interested in was passionate about. My wife actually read Star Wars books of mine when we first started dating (For the record, she hasn’t touched one since.) Shailene is well paired with Ansel Elgort as Gus, but I do have to admit that it’s a little weird to see them as boyfriend and girlfriend after seeing them as brother and sister in “Divergent.” Elgort is brash, funny, and outgoing. His role as Gus shows a lot more of what he’s capable of than his role in “Divergent.” I think this will be a breakout role for him. They’re supported by Nat Wolff as Isaac, Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother Frannie, and Sam Trammell as Michael. I particularly liked the portrayal of the parents as they come across as caring, level headed, and loving of their child going through this unfair nightmare. It’s rare to see parents portrayed in this way in Hollywood.

After we got out of the film, I asked my daughter what she thought of it. She said she liked it which, on the surface, doesn’t sound very enthusiastic. I later found the following texts she sent to her friends:

QUOTING JOHN GREEN “I HAVE LOST THE ABILITY TO EVEN”
THAT WAS SO PERFECT
HELP ME
OMG
OMG
OMG

So that’s the 15-year-old teenage girl review. I also asked her how the book compared with the film. She said it was remarkably faithful to it, but then she was able to rattle off a number of favorite scenes that were missing from the film. Despite this, she loved it and plans on having repeat viewings. And I have to admit that seeing her enjoy it added another level of enjoyment for me. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but seeing her as excited by a film as I can be was a lot of fun. And, for once, I was able to be a hero for getting her into an advance screening.

What Didn’t Work:
While it was perfect for my daughter, I did find some fault in these stars (See that? I totally did it again.)

Willem Dafoe is brilliantly weird as Van Houten. Much of the film builds up to meeting the eccentric author. However, he has surprisingly little screentime. And as the movie progresses, you start to question why he was even in it. Van Houten is obviously a catalyst for Hazel and Gus’ relationship, but the purpose he serves doesn’t seem to match the buildup he is given.

And as charming as Gus is, he does have some annoying habits. He carries around an unlit cigarette in his mouth as a sign of thumbing his nose at death. Teen girls swoon at that, but I was rolling my eyes at it. Another odd moment takes place at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. A major step in Hazel and Gus’ relationship takes place thereĀ….which I’m conflicted about. On the one hand, it’s a celebration of love and seizing the day which is in the spirit of Anne Frank’s writing. Yet something about it feels a little disrespectful. I’m still torn on it.

Finally, as I’m sitting and watching this movie with my daughter, a sex scene takes place. As things get more and more steamy, I finally leaned over to my daughter and said, “Well this isn’t at all awkward, is it?” What else could you do? So if you’re a parent seeing this with your kid, you may wanna go get popcorn at that point.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re a young female fan of the book, then I think you’ll be well pleased with “The Fault in Our Stars.” And if you’re a teenage boy being dragged along on a date, it’s a bearable teen romance. For adults, I think there are better romances out there, but I appreciate this film for aspiring to something more.

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