A few weeks ago I attended the 2nd annual Louisiana International Film Festival. The festival opened with a showing of the very solid Belle on Thursday night. After Belle ended, those of us who attended the opening screening were given the option to pick up a ticket for a “special sneak peak” on Friday night. The only clues we were given about the film were that it was one of 20th Century Fox’s biggest films of the summer and that we would be some of the first people in the world to see it. I was convinced it would be X-Men: Days of Future Past or at worst, How to Train Your Dragon 2. When they made us turn in our phones so we couldn’t record the film, I knew it was X-Men. I was wrong.
When the film was introduced we were told the film’s lead was expected to receive award buzz, so the speaker assured us that it wasn’t going to be X-Men. To add to the suspense, we weren’t told the film’s title and only learned it when it flashed on screen during the film’s opening. It turns out we were screening The Fault in Our Stars. I seemed to remember hearing the title before, but didn’t remember seeing a trailer, so I had no idea what to expect. I must say though, hearing the teenage girl next to me squeal with excitement and give her mother an “OMG” didn’t get me excited for the evening’s prospects. I proudly admit that the young woman next to me has good taste in movies (based on a small sample size). It turns out that not only was the speculation about award buzz warranted, but the entire film was great.
Usually I’d write a brief synopsis that gives you a general idea of what the film is about based on the trailer or plot outlines, but I’m not going to do that here. If you’re reading this you’ve likely seen a trailer or read the book. All you really need to know is that this is a story about a romance between two teenagers. While that might send some of you running away, please know that it is much more than a teen romance movie, it’s a movie about life and finding ways to make the best of the hands we are dealt.
When I first started watching the movie I found myself thinking of snarky things to post in this review, such as: “I liked it better when it was called A Walk to Remember!” or “Juno would totally kick Hazel Grace’s ass!”. After I quit being a baby about not being able to see X-Men early and brag about it on my sweet blog, I ended up falling for the movie. Unlike A Walk to Remember, the movie doesn’t rely on petty conflict to stir up emotions; it generates real emotion through realistic situations and good acting*.
Since I haven’t read the book I cannot speak to how well the book sets events into action, but with the film everything seems plausible and organic. Unlike typical teenage romance movies the two leads aren’t from “different worlds” and don’t end up realizing they’re meant for one another through some series of fortunate events. The characters are realistic, as are the situations in which they find themselves. Basically the film doesn’t create contrived situations to advance the plot or evoke emotional responses.
While the tone of the film is more serious than your typical teen romance, the film does a good job of maintaining emotional balance. What does that mean? It means that even though the film does a good job of evoking deep emotion, it doesn’t forget that human emotion isn’t found only at the low range of the spectrum (i.e. sadness). The film does a great job of picking the audience up after it’s been down through witty dialogue or humorous acts by characters.
The story itself is quite beautiful. Having said that, you’d never appreciate the story without the fine performances put in by the cast. We were told at the screening that Shailene Woodley would be a star after this movie, I now have no doubt that is true. I didn’t see Ms. Woodley in Divergent, but I did see her in The Descendants and enjoyed that performance. Her performance in The Fault in Our Stars has little to no missteps. Watching her take on the role of the sassy and confident Hazel Grace Lancaster reminded me of watching Ellen Page in her Oscar-nominated turn as the title character in Juno. When you’re watching the performance you can’t help but fall in love with the character. While I love quick-witted characters as much as the next guy, there is always a thin line to be walked when cracking-wise because too many quips and you risk trivializing matters because everything becomes a joke. Thankfully, the story and Ms. Woodley’s performance make sure that line isn’t even remotely in view, providing audiences with a strong female lead they can easily emotionally invest in.
The rest of the cast turn in solid performances as well. While Ms. Woodley is great as Hazel Grace, the film wouldn’t have worked as well as it did without a competent young actor across from her. Ansel Elgort steps into the role of Hazel Grace’s love interest, Augustus Waters. Mr. Elgort is charming and confident, but not so confident as to be arrogant. As mentioned above, the film works because we are given realistic characters who are facing plausible scenarios (i.e. this isn’t the quarterback falling for the book worm). Mr. Elgort gives a good performance, but is outshined by Ms. Woodley. Be that as it may, weak spots in the performance never cause you to become emotionally detached from the film. None of this is a slight to Mr. Elgort, but a testament to how good Ms. Woodley’s performance is. She's radiant.
If you’re on the fence about The Fault in Our Stars, go for Ms. Woodley’s performance and stay for the charming story. Support 20th Century Fox for providing us with a film that portrays teenagers not as children finding their way, but young adults confronting the questions that even the best of us face.
Rating: Very Good
Verdict: If you read the book, go see the movie. If you liked A Walk to Remember, go see the movie. If you are a teenage girl, go see the movie. If you want to give your emotions some exercise, go see the movie.
I’m fairly confident I am not the target demographic for this movie, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t really enjoy it. I’m a huge romantic, so I’m a sucker for love stories, but this one is different. It’s not saccharine. It’s a film that gets to the heart of that most fundamental of human emotions, love. The film explores not only love between two young adults, but love of friends and family. If you’re even remotely interested, I suggest you check it out. I went in a skeptic and came out a convert.
Is it just me?: This past year a recurring theme in several of my courses seems to be the absurdity of life. Generally, this means that life might not have any sort of inherent meaning. If that is the case, what is the point? I think this movie does a good job of introducing these ideas and provides us with potential answers. Of course, this might all just be me trying to find a way to justify spending time watching a movie aimed at teenagers when I could have been reading a book for school...
Strong support: While the performances of Ms. Woodley and Mr. Elgort will get most of the attention, the film wouldn’t be as successful at telling its story without help from an excellent supporting cast. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell do a wonderful job of portraying parents who are dealing with a daughter in a unique situation and avoid the trap of becoming parental clichés. Nat Wolff could be the most significant of the supporting cast because his character Isaac, Augustus’ best friend, provides several moments of levity throughout the film. Without his character and perfomance, the film could stray too far into heavy emotional waters.
*For the record I enjoyed A Walk to Remember