We may die at any moment, but the young couple in “The Fault in Our Stars” knows that truth too well because of their illness. It is always possible that they may die sooner than they expect, so they want to enjoy their precious time together as much as possible while feeling alive and happy in the company of each other.
Their story is mainly told through the viewpoint of Hazel(Shailene Woodley), a teenager girl who has to go through every moment of her daily life with her medical complications. Although she miraculously survived when her thyroid cancer metastasized to her lung several years ago, she always needs to carry an oxygen tank to support her damaged lungs, and that disability limits her life in many ways to her frustration. She stays at her home while being taken care of by her loving parents, but she wishes to be a little more normal even though she is well aware of her fragile condition.
Persuaded by her mother, Hazel reluctantly attends a support meeting for young cancer patients, and that is how she meets Gus(Ansel Elgort), an easygoing teenager boy who also does not seem to need this meeting but gladly introduces himself to the others in the meeting. He lost right leg due to osteosarcoma, and we see his prosthetic leg which he frankly reveals with good humor at one point.
Hazel and Gus later come across each other after their meeting, and we get a typical Meet Cute moment as watching something click between these two smart kids who come to find many common things between them including their acerbic wits. They soon hang around together frequently, and they also support their fellow cancer patient Issac(Nat Wolff), Gus’ close friend who lost one of his eyes due to retinoblastoma and now is going to lose the other one because of the same cancer.
And they share their favorite books. Hazel recommends “An Imperial Affliction”, a novel which means a lot to her, and Gus really enjoys reading it. That book is written by an author named Peter Van Houten(Willem Dafoe), and Hazel wants to meet and then ask Van Houten so many things about her favorite book, but he has been leading a reclusive life in Amsterdam – and it is not recommendable for her to travel that far considering her medical condition, which can be suddenly worsened as shown through her emergency situation during one night.
It will not be much of a spoiler to tell you that our young couple eventually gets a chance to fly to Amsterdam in spite of several setbacks on their way. It will also be not much of a surprise to many of you to see that Hazel and Gus become disappointed and disillusioned when they finally meet their favorite author. And it will also be not much of a shock to many of you when it is revealed later that there is some bad news for them to deal with.
The movie intends to be a tearjerker, and I do not mind about its intention to induce tears from us, but it sometimes seems to be more interested in its main characters’ romance than the grim reality involved with their illness. Gus and Hazel are engaging teenagers to watch, and I was amused by several humorous scenes between them, but the movie feels a little too nice and ideal while being rather tame in the depiction of what they have to struggle with as cancer patients. Although they do suffer in one way or another around the third act, their painful moments are too mild to leave impressions on us, and the movie never goes deeply into their hardships even during their saddest(and darkest) moment.
I cannot say anything about John Green’s young adult novel the movie is based on because I have not read it, but I was disappointed because the adapted screenplay was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote the screenplays for “500 Days of Summer”(2009) and “The Spectacular Now”(2013). While these movies brought a fresh air to their respective genre conventions, “The Fault in Our Star” just stays on a safe mode as moving along its predictable plot, and I kept losing my interest when I was supposed to be emotionally involved with what was going in the story. With a guy with two intact eyeballs, I have no idea on how much Issac feels depressed about losing his sight, but the movie just shrugs off his gloomy situation so easily that I did not buy a supposedly funny scene in which Hazel and Gus help Issac executing his small personal revenge.
Since her breakout performance in “The Descendants”(2011), Shailene Woodley has been a young promising actress to watch, and she is well-cast here as the ailing but plucky heroine of the movie. While her co-star Ansel Elgort, who incidentally appeared with Woodley in “Divergent”(2014) as one of the supporting characters in that film, has less interesting things to do in his role, he and Woodley get along well with each other on the screen, and they certainly look good as they walk around the streets of Amsterdam. There is a scene involved with a certain historical site in that city, and these two likable performers make that scene somehow work, even though you can clearly see how blatantly the movie is trying to pull your heartstrings.
In comparison, the supporting performers surrounding them are stuck in the functional roles. As Hazel’s supportive parents, Laura Dern and Sam Trammell do as much as they can do with their underdeveloped characters which mostly demand them to look 1) caring or 2) concerned, but at least they have more screen time than David Whalen and Milica Govich, who play Gus’ parents. Willem Dafoe is appropriately cast as a sour novelist who may have his own pain, but his character is more or less than a plot device, and we get a very little understanding of his alcoholic bitterness.
The director Josh Boone did a competent job in making his film look nice and appealing, and its gentle soundtrack is filled with a number of good songs as the suitable accompaniment to the bittersweet romance in the story. It is a well-made product indeed, and most of its target audiences will get exactly what they want from it, but I somehow did not feel enough to care about its story. As quoted in the movie, pain demands to be felt, but I only saw it while not feeling it that much.