Is it possible to find true love with someone when you face an uncertain future? Are you able to fight your feelings or give into them before it’s too late? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “The Fault in Our Stars,” which followed young love set under the most tragic of circumstances. The premise might be familiar, but the execution is worth seeing nonetheless.
“The Fault in Our Stars” followed Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) a teenager who had to endure an awful lot of pain in her young life. She was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer that had become terminal. Hazel had decided to not embrace anything beyond her own private world to avoid the inevitable fact that she wasn’t meant to live a long and happy life with anyone. She loved her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell), but she also was forced to tolerate their doting on her every need as they were afraid of losing her at any given moment. Her mother forced Hazel into going to a cancer support group as a way to get her mind off her cancer and talk about her feelings with others. While at one meeting, she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort) who was a cancer survivor and had a positive outlook on life that was contagious. They befriended each other outside of the meeting and decided to become friends by sharing everything: their pasts and their love of books. Hazel read Gus’ book about his favorite videogame, while he read hers “An Imperial Affliction” that focused on cancer and a painful loss. She was eager to get answers about some unresolved questions from the book’s author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), but he was a recluse hiding out in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get any luck in getting the answers she wanted. Gus ended up getting in touch with Van Houten’s assistant and found a way for them to fly to Amsterdam to meet him. Sadly, Hazel’s dream turned out to be a disappointment when her favorite writer was just a reclusive alcoholic unable to cope with life. The trip wasn’t a total loss, because Hazel decided to give into her feelings for Gus and kissed him. After a period of bliss, Gus revealed to Hazel before they returned home that his cancer had returned and that he only had a short time to live. They decided to embrace their remaining time together as his health grew worse, but will Hazel be able to accept the inevitable when it does come?
In terms of questions, the movie pretty much resolved any lingering questions, except whether it was worth adapting the beloved teen novel into a film. When it comes to adapting book for the big screen, most movies tend to miss more than one mark by either choosing the wrong actor/actress for a beloved leading role or writing the script in a way that wrecks the overall story. This movie attempted to stay true to the book for the most part by focusing on casting the right actor and actress to play Hazel and Gus, which they succeeded in doing. Woodley captured Hazel’s vulnerability, innocence and complicated feelings about death. She gave Hazel a strength that made her character relateable even as she faced her impending death as well. Elgort’s Gus helped to bring moments of levity whenever the story tended to veer down a really dark path. It also helped that Nat Wolff’s portrayal of Isaac, another cancer survivor, brought everything into perspective whenever he was on-screen. He demonstrated the anger of how a disease can rob you of your identity, but it can never take away who you truly are. Wolff also had a hilarious screen where Gus, Hazel and Isaac ended up throwing eggs at his ex-girlfriend’s car after she refused to stick by him after his cancer caused him to lose the other eye. He fully embrace Isaac’s wreckless behavior as he had done before in other films, but his performance was more controlled this time around and offered a few key scenes where the character could trash his best friend’s trophy collection if he felt the need. Of course, the story was to focus on the love story between the two teens, but it was hard to fathom where the parents where for both of them. With their kids dying of terminal illnesses, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that they’d want to spend every waking moment around them. Even though that plot flaw was overlooked, Woodley and Elgort gave dynamic performances as two teenagers who loved each other even though time was running for both of them.
As for breakout performances, Woodley and Elgort led the pack as the fact that the story revolved mostly around their two characters. Woodley embodied Hazel as someone who was forced to deal with her impending death before turning 21. She had to watch her family as they learned to live their lives around her uncertain future and her feelings about leaving her loved ones behind. Woodley projected Hazel’s heartbreak as she remembered when she younger that she was near death and watched her parents dealing with the possible loss that never left her mind. She often managed to indicate what Hazel was feeling without having to always declare it. It also helped that she had a decent chemistry with Elgort that made their rapid paced romance make sense when in reality it would be a little harder to fathom, even if a terminal illness was involved. Elgort, on the other hand, had the challenging of playing Gus as the eternal optimistic who slowly devolved into a pessimist when his health took several turns for the worst. It was heartbreaking to watch the light go out of the character’s eyes, but Elgort made viewers feel Gus’ pain with every strained move he made towards the end of the film. Even though Elgort only had a few film credits to him name, he had the potential of having a longer career than most young actors as long as he chose his future film roles more wisely. Only time will tell if that’s the case. As for capturing the pair’s on-screen relationship, the strongest scene came towards the end of the Amsterdam trip when the couple embraced each other as they realized that they had to make every moment count since time was starting to run out.
Verdict: The leads have a comfortable chemistry that makes the dark subject matter worth watching no matter what happened on-screen in the end.
DVD Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)