It’s a story as old as time itself. Girl and boy meet, fall in love. An obstacle arises and the strength of their passion dictates how they approach it. They’re young because that’s when love is at it’s most interesting, most dynamic and most terrifying. But what happens when the obstacle is life threatening and not in the melodramatic blockbuster fashion. What if the obstacle is disease? Love in the time of cancer. Pain demands to be felt.
Based on the young adult novel by author John Green, The Fault in Our Stars follows the persistently terminal Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley from Divergent) as she navigates the impossible landscape that is teenage love. The object of her affection is the ever energetic and enthused Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a cancer survivor and amputee. The movie pulls no punches with Hazel’s opening narration effectively warning that this is a story as much about cancer as it is about love.
The focus is primarily on the breadth of the the couple’s relationship, although a rich cast of characters, ranging from other survivors to struggling parents offer a diverse range of side stories that pack the running time to the brim. These asides bounce from entertaining vignettes to deep and dark questions about the nature of living and loving with such chaotic sickness and the effect that it has on not just the sick teens but those who harbour any level of responsibility for them. Although these perspectives can occasionally come across as unnecessary extensions to what is already a fairly long movie, they’re always at least interesting and often foreshadow later development.
The primary love story itself straddles the line between cliche and inventive and although it never quite finds its footing on either side it remains constantly enchanting whilst unfraid to broach uncharacteristic intensity. This is almost entirely thanks to the standout performances from Woodley and Elfort who breeze through the opening stages of the relationship with charm and later begin to steadily let their guard down, enveloping reasonable angst where applicable, or just adding fun and flavour to scenes where the writing and direction otherwise falter. For a movie so completely uninventive in regards too its own visual style it’s a testament to Elgort and Woodley that they’re never a bore to watch.
Although lacking the wit of other recent teen romances and occasionally veering too close to tired cliche, The Fault in Our Stars is dangerously sweet, benefitting from the chemistry of its two stars and the willingness to take chances with dark themes and developments, rather than using its cancer plot as a crutch to set itself apart from the crowd of movies based on Young Adult novels.
As Hazel deals with her illness she repeatedly reads the same book, circling passages and sentiments that matter to her, such as ‘pain demands to be felt’. Coming away from The Fault in Ours Stars that message feels more life affirming than it might at first appear. Perhaps pain demands to be felt to put in perspective how lucky we were without it. Or how lucky we are to feel anything like love and lose ourselves in it whilst we can.
The Fault in Our Stars is Out Now In Wide Release