Film review: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, from Built For Speed

It’s easy to be cynical about a film like The Fault in Our Stars, a story of teen romance and terminal illness that updates Love Story for the smart phone generation. Yes, it’s often clichéd and emotionally manipulative but largely due a strong central performance from Shailene Woodley, the film holds together and offers at least a few moments of moving insight and genuine compassion.

Woodley plays Hazel, a 16-year-old girl suffering from lung cancer who, much to her overprotective parents’ (Laura Dern and Sam Trammel) dismay wants to live a normal teenage life.  Reluctantly attending a teens with cancer support group, Hazel meets the cocky but likeable Gus (Ansel Elgort) who has lost a leg to cancer.   A touchingly innocent relationship, based around texting and a shared obsession with a novel by mysterious author Peter Van Houten, developes but all the while their illnesses hover over them like a spectre.

At first this film does not inspire confidence.  Shot on digital video, with a predominantly teen cast and a white bread American setting, it looks like an episode of TV show The Hills.  Also, Hazel, who spouts as many acerbic lines as Ellen Page in Juno, initially seems to be just another nasally-voiced teen cynic.  Thanks to what turns out to be a forceful yet nuanced performance from Woodley, though, Hazel becomes an endearing mix of strength, fear, honesty and compassion.  Similarly, Elgort as Gus at first seems like another overconfident teen but the film movingly shows that his bravado and gallows humour are concealing desperate fear.  The film frequently threatens to turn into a treacly romance but the two leads give it an honesty and casual charm.

The supporting performances are mixed in terms of quality, Laura Dern is over-the-top as the cloying mother while Nat Wollf as Hazel and Gus’s quirky friend Isaac adds some passable comedy relief even if oddly he seems to be channelling McLovin from Superbad.   Willem Dafoe, however, almost steals the film in a cameo as an utterly detestable creep.

The film is more about the romance than illness and keeps the disturbing medical scenes to a minimum but doesn’t completely ignore cancer patients’ painful and traumatic experiences.

The Fault in Our Stars features a well-worn story, has plenty of predictable scenes and contains  some cringe-worthy clichés such as bystanders clapping when Hazel and Gus kiss but Woodley and Elgort still manage to make this a touching and convincingly romantic film.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Drama/ romance.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Josh Boone.

Release date: 5th June 2014

Running time:  126 mins.

Reviewer: NickGardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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