When an author sells the rights to make his wildly popular book into a movie, the chance for betraying the book on film is high. Although the deal can be quite lucrative and potentially garner a wider audience for both the book and future movies, it seems tragic that often the dollar signs get in the way of making a quality movie that honors the book. Thankfully, joyfully, this is not the case with The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS). John Green has supervised the making of a movie that is both filled with musings on death and celebrations of life without condescending to his young adult audience.
TFIOS stars is the story of 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lawrence, who is in a stalemate with cancer thanks to a trial cancer drug, and Augustus Waters, who has given up a leg to beat his cancer. They meet at a cancer support group that is, of all things, funny, and they fall in love, “…like [they] fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.” There is a confrontation in Amsterdam. No spoilers in this review; you’ll have to see what happens.
The best part of this movie is that it acknowledges the importance of loving big while you have the chance, recognizing that “pain must be felt” when it happens, the same way that love cannot be ignored. In many movies, adolescent love is portrayed as temporary and unreal; in TFIOS, it is an act of defiance, spitting in the face of loss and taking advantage of what precious time humans have on earth.
Some reviewers have called the film manipulative in that there is a carefully orchestrated soundtrack and a montage at the end that utilizes hazily filmed flashbacks and perfectly timed lyrics. It would feel manipulative if the story were not so true to the book. The parts that are left out are few and deftly handled in the film; you don’t miss what’s not there, and the story holds up.
Shailene Woodley does an excellent job as Hazel Grace, portraying her perfect no-bullshit approach with a mix of strength and vulnerability, and Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters is the perfect choice for the role. Their chemistry together is undeniable, and it plays as age-old intimacy onscreen.
Yes, the movie is a tearjerker. It may be difficult to explain to kids under 12, and there are adult themes (struggling with death is just one), but this is the kind of movie that you could see at several stages in life and get something different out of it each time. Who we are in this world, who we love, how we live: these are big questions in the movie, and the answers do not disappoint.