The Fault in Our Stars is a teen drama and follows many of the conventions of the great John Hughes movies of the 1980s. We have the sweethearts, one reluctant, the other not, we have the light relief best friend and we have the angst filled parents.
In this film though, the love story falters because one of the kids has cancer, the best friend is agonisingly losing his sight and the parents are angst ridden because they are living with the unimaginable certainty that one day they will have to witness their child passing away. It is powerful stuff and is played sensitively and respectfully. The John Hughes films were about teenagers on the brink of their future, The Fault in Our Stars is not. No one punches the air at the end of this movie.
At the heart of the film is a beautiful relationship between two people who love each other very much, desperately wanting the best for one another but bravely dealing with the fact that things will eventually end in horrible tragedy. One of them is Hazel, a teenage girl whose illness has her constantly connected to a respirator, and the other is her mother.
Of course they are not the main couple in the film but there are two very clear reasons why I connected with this part of the story more than the other. First of all, I am a parent myself so inevitably I am going to respond to the figure whose circumstances are most relatable to my own.
The issues faced by Hazel and both of her parents are clearly secondary to the main romance but they are given plenty of screen time and play a significant part in the story. Both Hazel and her mother, played by Laura Dern, are defined by their concern for one another and their interactions are moving and totally believable.
Secondly though, I have to say that I didn’t totally buy into central couple. Shailene Woodly’s performance as Hazel is excellent. Her stoicism and pain feel completely real and the portrayal she gives of a young woman admirably coping with horrid circumstances is massively compelling. The problem is her beau.
At the start of the film Hazel’s voice over tells us that this will not be a Hollywoodised version of events and her side of the story supports that. Unfortunately Ansel Elgort’s Augustus Waters is not playing the same game.
His character is charming but too much so. He is cocky, quirky, more than a little smug and teaming with affectations. He just doesn’t seem real in a way that Hazel does and I found this a hurdle when trying to connect with them as a couple. She distinctly doesn’t feel like a movie teenager and he distinctly does. This is the fault in The Fault in Our Stars, the film is moving and deals with serious issues in a respectful matter but one of the leads is just drawn too broadly and the whole thing feels like Love Story meets The Purple Rose of Cairo.
There is one aspect of the film though, for which I cannot commend it enough. The movie clearly deals heavily with terminal illness but this is not ultimately what it is about. In the end it is a celebration of life, any life, and the honour and privilege of loving and being loved which is just wonderful.
Is this one for the kids?
In many respects yes and this is something for which it needs a great deal of credit. Of course in this case kids refers to those aged 12 – 18 but it takes an adult story and presents it well for young adults.
There is some partial nudity and swearing but it is all in respect of the honesty of (most of) the narrative.
The Ripley Factor
– Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men?
– Are the women in the film believable as real people?
– Are women objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film?
– Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism?
The protagonist in this film is female and as I have suggested she, and other women around her, feel totally real.
Hazel is strong in a way she, and many teenagers in reality, shouldn’t have to be and is a powerful role model. In fact this is one film where reference to a ‘Ripley Factor’ is trite. This girl wishes that the worst thing she had to deal with was vicious and merciless alien monsters.