[Screen It]

"THE FAULT IN OUR STARS"
(2014) (Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Two teenage cancer patients find solace, companionship and even love after meeting in a support group.
PLOT:
17-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (SHAILENE WOODLEY) is a cancer patient who's pretty much resigned to the fact that she's going to die sooner than later. While an experimental drug has stabilized her, it's weakened her lungs and thus she requires constant oxygen support. Her parents (LAURA DERN and SAM TRAMMELL) are concerned about her, so much so that her mom heavily encourages Hazel to attend support group meetings. There, the teen not only meets Isaac (NAT WOLFF) who's already lost one eye to cancer and will likely also lose the other one, but also Augustus Waters (ANSEL ELGORT). He's an optimistic 18-year-old who lost part of his leg to cancer but has not let that diminish his spirit about living.

He's instantly smitten with Hazel and takes it upon himself to lift her out of her depression. He does that and the two become fast friends, with him hoping that will turn into something more romantic. She's reluctant, however, as she views her time as limited and thus doesn't want anyone else to become too attached to her. Nonetheless, they plan a trip to Amsterdam to visit author Peter van Houten (WILLEM DAFOE), Hazel's favorite writer, to get answers his one book left hanging. As Hazel and Augustus try to make sense of the lives that fate has dealt them, an inevitable romance blossoms between them.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I've never really thought about this, but a fairly large number of movies revolve around the safety of one or more characters, sometimes with their lives at stake. That's all designed to create drama and raise the emotional stakes for the viewer. Yet, for all of that and the related peril in action films, sci-fi pics and certain dramas, more often than not there's rarely a true fear for the viewer that the hero or heroine will actually perish (as such audiences generally prefer "up" endings).

That is, except for some indie and foreign flicks that have no problem killing off their main characters. And, of course, there are horror pics that, due to their very nature, usually have a sizeable body count. But then there are so-called disease of the week movies that usually revolve around some life threatening issue where one or more central characters could succumb to the particular malady. Not a lot of men are fans of those, but a fair number of women seem to be drawn to such tearjerkers, including the likes of "Beaches," "Terms of Endearment" and others of their ilk.

I have a feeling the same will hold true for "The Fault in our Stars." And that's not just because it follows the game plan, if you will, of such offerings that drive up sales of Kleenex. Instead, it's due to millions of people having already read author John Green's 2012 novel of the same name on which this film is based. Working from an adaptation by scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, director Josh Boone pulls no punches in pulling all of the necessary strings to get the waterworks flowing.

It's the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a teenage girl who's been battling cancer for several years and is now on 24-hour oxygen due to the effects of that and the experimental drug she's on. She's heavily encouraged by her mother (Laura Dern) to attend a cancer survivor support group which is where she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). He's a fellow survivor and not only sports a prosthetic leg, but also an optimistic attitude that butts heads with Hazel's fatalistic outlook on life.

The two hit it off in a cutesy, young couple movie romance fashion, and that will likely cause the target audience (and likely many of those they drag along with them) to wonder and worry if one or maybe even both might not make it through to the end of the pic's little over two hour runtime. If that sounds like your cup of tea, this film certainly delivers.

Yet, for all of its obvious, manipulative tactics, the film works thanks to smart writing, completely believable characters and winning performances not only from the leads, but also the supporting players. I'm usually not the biggest fan of such pics, but I have to admit that this one won me over and yes, occasionally got me teary-eyed.

Of course, for that to affect hardened cynics like myself, those telling such a story have to get all of us to care for the characters and all involved here do that with utmost efficiency. Yes, some of that comes about by default simply from seeing sick kids who might not get to grow up. But when the words coming from their mouths are raw yet profound, and those inhabiting them create real personas, one can't help but be caught up in their story, travails and uncertain future.

Woodley and Elgort's performances are pitch perfect and the chemistry between them, warts and all, is spot on. Tweens who've yet to experience true romantic love and the rest of us veterans will sense the credibility of the attraction as tempered by the characters' uncertainty of how things will play out on a variety of levels.

Dern and Sam Trammell (playing her husband) are solid as Hazel's caring parents, while Nat Wolff is a hoot as the comic relief character who also gets his moments of despair, anger and resentment that help to make him come off as human rather than just the usual funny, but otherwise throwaway movie supporting character. Willem Dafoe also shows up as a less than agreeable author whose work and attitude deeply affect the main characters, with the resolution of that adding a nice emotional moment.

There's no denying the film is filled with plenty of those, and when it goes into full tearjerker mode it digs deep. Even so, while the manipulation is easy to predict and then spot when it occurs, I found it highly effective without being troublesome or irritating. For those who love tragic tearjerkers, there's not much fault in "The Fault in Our Stars." It rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 3, 2014 / Posted June 6, 2014


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