Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars Review

Wow. That's Powerful

I've never a word of John Greens work. This was no accident; whenever I experienced The Fault In Our Stars in a movie theater for the first time, I wanted every aspect of its storytelling to be as much of a surprise as it could possibly be. As the 20th Century Fox logo came up though, I could tell I was likely the only one in the auditorium who hadn't been obsessively gazing over every page of the text this past week. Thunderous applause and cheers erupted from the crowd as the camera panned up to stars, and the approving noise got only louder once Shailene Woodley began to talk. 

Right from the get go, any other role Woodley has ever played (including a terrific turn in The Spectacular Now) melted away. Let's be real here; the movie was gonna live or die on if Woodley could make her protagonist, Hazel Grace, worth rooting for. And oh boy is she. From her first monologue, I immediately found Hazel endearing, her tumultuous experiences with cancer giving her a unique perspective on the world that mixes cynicism with a touch of wonder. A buddy of mine (whose actually read the book) brought up how many have used the word pretentious to describe Hazel, but that word never once crossed my mind during the film. Maybe it's because any attempts to act like that in the movie falter; she's too damn likable to be anything less than engrossing.

The fact that Hazel Grace is this successful as a character is a big accomplishment on Woodleys part, but lets not forget the exemplary screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who are a major part of why Hazel and everyone else in the film is so excellently memorable. Like the main plot itself, they never shy away from showing us these characters in their worst moments, which make every single brief victory Hazel finds resonate emotionally that much more. Director Josh Boone makes sure their written tragedy translates to the screen, with each frame of the film bursting with all the optimism that young love emits. 

Ah, but that young love requires two people, and not just our relentlessly likable protagonist. Enter: Augustus Waters. Now, here's where things can go south super fast in a romantic movie; that male love interest is usually relegated to being simply a hunk or a bad-boy-gone-right. Ah, but these guys go a much more unique route by making Augustus a similarly sick 18 year old who has a cheery disposition and a joke always in his arsenal. He's sweet, encouraging, and brought to riveting life by Ansel Elgort. I hadn't seen him before this movie (he was in Divergent apparently), but wow, this is his movie. What Titanic was to Leonardo DiCaprio, The Fault In Our Stars is to Ansel Elgort. It's the one that shows the capabilities of a very talented young actor, a guy who can make any humorous quip feel effortless and then spin right around and break your heart in his emotionally devastating scenes.

Emotionally devastating. Yeah, those two words seem appropriate for the movie. Because, like I said earlier, this is a story that doesn't give minor bumps in the road for our characters to face. No, no, no, this movie puts them through the wringer, with it showing life as a dark place full of disappointments, pills and stairs you'll struggle to climb. That's what makes the beautiful scenes where Augustus and Hazel just interact together so powerful; they seem to be a peaceful oasis in a sea of tragedy. It's so engrossing to watch, even during some of the missteps in the 3rd act that feel a bit clunky. I get why the plot points themselves needed to happen, since they had to get to the tremendously effective finale, but it still feels peculiar for such glaring flaws (however brief they are) to appear in a movie that takes all the necessary steps to avoid such pitfalls.

Really, I've gotta stop right here if I'm gonna keep this review at a reasonable length. Still, just some more brief notices; kudos to Laura Dern and especially Willem Dafoe for knocking it out of the ballpark in their supporting roles. Could have been thankless background characters in another feature, but here they and the rest of the adults in the picture are given time to shine. Also, the way they depict text messaging in this movie is oddly pleasing, reminding me of Wes Anderson for reasons even I can't explain. That sounds like a copout I know, but I suppose there a just some things in life that resonate so with you that they defy explanation. Heh. What a cliche. But y'know, cliches aren't bad in and of themselves. Just look at The Fault In Our Stars, which uses the cliche trappings of teenage romance to make a beautiful portrait of perseverance and love. 

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