How to review The Fault in Our Stars without breaking down into a puddle of tears at the memory of the film – that’s the tough question.
What’s not a tough question is whether or not the film is good, because it is. Phew.
Adhering closely to John Green’s novel of the same name, The Fault in Our Stars (let’s just call it TFIOS from now on) follows cancer sufferer Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), who is forced to join a teenage cancer support group by her mother. There, she meets Augustus ‘Gus’ Waters (Ansel Elgort), who had one of his legs amputated after getting cancer, and finds herself reluctantly falling in love.
Woodley is excellent as the sarcastic, witty Hazel. I know people have said this before, but Woodley just has this face you want to watch, it’s so full of expression and she uses all of it to get a point across. TFIOS is told through Hazel’s point of view, and Woodley creates a Hazel true to the book, and who you want to hear from.
Wearing a tube connected to an oxygen tank that she carries around with her at all times, Woodley makes you manage to simultaneously forget that Hazel is always literally carrying the weight of her cancer with her, while also making you constantly aware that she’s not a typical teenager. However, while Hazel is not a typical teenager, she is a normal one, and her cancer only heightens that – she rolls her eyes at her mum’s behaviour, sulks at not getting her own way, and is overly dramatic when her mum tells her that she’s depressed. In the midst of a story about two teenagers with cancer falling in love, Woodley’s Hazel can make you belly laugh.
Elgort is a great Gus, with his charm and cheekiness. He’s good looking, but not too good looking, and has a smile that could light up the sky. Elgort is at his best during one-to-one scenes with Woodley, when he’s playing to a group his Gus occasionally veers into supreme cheesiness and cockiness. On the whole though, he’s easily the 18-year-old boy every 17-year-old girl should fall in love with, because he’s sweet and kind and intense but not too intense.
I loved watching Hazel and Gus’s journey, metaphorical and literal, which took them, as in the novel, to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favourite writer, the reclusive and mean Peter Van Houten (played as both comedic relief and villain by Willem Defoe). Seeing both Hazel and Gus change over the course of the film alternately made me feel hopeful, and desperately sad. There were parts that made tears well up in my eyes that I really didn’t expect (the restaurant scene in Amsterdam, Hazel climbing all those stairs with steely eyed determination), and parts that made me laugh that I didn’t expect (Van Houten being a complete arse, the guy who leads the support group). TFIOS is a rollercoaster of emotion, which is what makes it such a great film.
The other thing that makes it a great film is the relationships it explores. Of course, there’s Hazel and Gus, but there are plenty of other relationships that stab at your heart and make you feel. Hazel’s parents (played by Sam Trammell and Laura Dern) are funny and loving, and Dern is responsible for one of the most heartbreaking interactions of the film. Hazel and Gus’s separate friendships with Issac (Nat Wolff – probably the best male actor in the film) are nuanced – each gets something different from Issac and gives something different to him – and as a trio they’re fabulous. And Van Houten, the most antisocial character in the film, who acts as a counterpoint for all the emotion filled relationships we see, is also unexpectedly revealed as a man to whom relationships are important.
TFIOS is a gorgeous film, and the reason it’s gorgeous is because it’s full of heart and because you care about all the characters on screen. But, as a warning, you’re not going to be okay after seeing this film. Okay?