Attractive young people affected by cancer has been an oddly prolific subgenre lately, with some entries (50/50) better than others (Now Is Good), but The Fault In Our Stars already has something of a kick-start thanks to its insanely popular source novel and so-hot-right-now leading lady Shailene Woodley.
She plays Hazel, who is constantly avoiding death’s door thanks to her oxygen tank and experimental medication, and she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort, who player her brother in Divergent earlier this year) at a cancer support group. Gus lost a leg to the disease, and the two easily bond over their shared affliction and sense of humour about the raw deal they’ve been dealt.
Director Josh Boone isn’t exactly blesses with an overly cinematic eye, and the screenplay could’ve used a little help with translating some of the schmaltzier moments that may have worked on the page, but don’t necessarily work on the screen. Gus bluntly telling us “This is a metaphor”, thereby robbing the metaphor of any intelligence, or the painfully long-winded and unnecessary Anne Frank comparison are just two examples of some dodgy scripting.
None of that really matters though, because thankfully Boone focuses most of the story of the central couple, who are nothing short of adorable together and stir up some real chemistry. Elgort plays Gus with just the right mix of cocky and charming, and Woodley shouldn’t discount some awards attention next year for her strong but fractured Hazel. Surrounding them with the talented likes of Laura Dern as a loving but highly strung mother, Willem Dafoe as a reclusive author and Sam Trammell as a lightly-treading father were all sound moves, too.
As much as cinema can be used for having “a good laugh” or “a good scare”, it can also be used as a cathartic medium for “a good cry”, and The Fault In Our Stars will make sure that only the most stone-hearted will leave the screen unaffected, with most people still wiping away the tears at the end credits. Teenagers will ball their eyes out for the cute couple, and grown-ups will be impressed by the effective emotional manipulation. And we mean that in a good way.