“The film’s target demographic – teenage girls – are likely to eat this up, but for those looking for more substantial romantic fare, this is mainstream American romance cinema playing dressup in independent romance cinema and foreign romance cinema’s clothes.”
The immediate fault in The Fault in Our Stars, the latest in the long line of incredulous American romance movies, is that its lead actress – the incredibly talented Shailene Woodley – looks like the softened version of a teenage girl suffering from a life-threatening cancer. The same goes with her character’s love interest in the film, played by a model by the name of Ansel Elgort. If this is indicative of anything, it’s that even when dealing with harsh, tough-to-swallow topics in America, we still need them sugarcoated and handed to us in an easily-digestible manner. Despite the great acting abilities demonstrated by Woodley and Elgort in this film, I simply can’t buy that both of their characters are suffering with cancer based on their beautiful appearances – if they are, then they must have had an in-home makeup artist we never got to see.
As stated, the film revolves around two terminally ill teenagers who meet at a support group and grow to have one of the sappiest, most unbelievable teenage relationship I have yet to see. Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, who is sixteen years old and is enduring an immense physical and mental struggle. She lugs around an oxygen tank wherever she goes and gets winded just by walking at a slow pace. She keeps her hair short, on count of the chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and has an outlook on the world that is simultaneously realistic and sort of dreamlike.
When she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), everything changes. Augustus is the kind of quirky guy that puts a cigarette between his teeth as a metaphor for putting the thing that has the power to kills you in your possession but not giving it the power to kill you (not lighting it). He’s also the kind of guy who just understands Hazel from the moment they meet, and wind up traveling to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author along with hanging out and having long and strained conversations about life. “What’s your story?” Augustus asks Hazel. “I just told you,” she replies, as she begins to tell the story of her diagnosis over again before being interrupted by Augustus. “No, your real story,” he says, “your hopes, your dreams, your hobbies, your personality, etc.”
The Fault in Our Stars takes an idea so optimistic and romantic that bears the potential of being relatable and personal and winds up resorting to the same kind of incredulous nonsense that we see in Nicolas Sparks romances. Realism is shortchanged for completely unbelievable circumstances, and intimate discussions are given little depth and obviousness of a bombastic orchestra score. Despite this, Woodley and Elgort demonstrate strong acting ability, especially Woodley who, at this point, is just counting down roles till she scores an Oscar nomination that results in a win. Elgort, on the other hand, handles emotionally potent scenes very well and scenes where casual conversation takes prominence. Even Elgort’s role as the abrupt but necessary love interest doesn’t result in Hazel’s father becoming all defensive of her daughter, like the unbelievably ridiculous setups we saw come forth in Endless Love.
In those regards, The Fault in Our Stars is passable, and winds up making good use of its last twenty-five minutes or so, when emotion must come through in a believable and well-structured way. The issue, however, is that the previous one-hundred minutes are clouded by absolutely ludicrous dialog and sheer unbelievability with characters, making the film something that I simply couldn’t accept. The film’s target demographic – teenage girls – are likely to eat this up, but for those looking for more substantial romantic fare, this is mainstream American romance cinema playing dressup in independent romance cinema and foreign romance cinema’s clothes.
Review by Lead Film Critic Steve Pulaski