Image: 20th Century Fox

Review: The Fault in Our Stars


Image: 20th Century Fox
Image: 20th Century Fox

After John Green’s announcement in 2013 that his latest critically acclaimed novel, The Fault in Our Stars, would be adapted into a major motion picture by Fox, the world’s Young Teen readership went into overdrive. The question is, did the film live up to the hype?

The book, published in 2012, received critical praise from all avenues: the novel poignantly captures the conflict between a life dominated by cancer and the acts of two young teenagers in refusing to let their illness define them. The book moved thousands of readers to tears, made us laugh out loud and made us appreciate life in the face of the grit and determination of two inspirational characters; Hazel and Gus. Consequently, there is always a feeling of unease when a beloved book, dealing with such emotional matters, is selected to be Hollywoodised: will it be able to convey the story without removing too much of its charm and feeling?

In my opinion, the movie adaptation has done this and much more. It has not only portrayed the story with emotional depth, it has enabled me, as a reader, to engage yet again, and on a visual level, with the characters in whom I invested so much. Whilst admittedly there have been some added Hollywood touches and changes to the plot, it has achieved much more than I anticipated and, indeed, could have hoped for.

The traditional romcom storyline usually goes as follows: two people meet, fall in love and have amazing experiences together until an event occurs to drive them apart. After this tragic event, the couple realise what they’re missing and fall into each other’s arms and forget the whole nasty occurrence ever happened.  And up to a certain point, The Fault in Our Stars certainly follows this formula: Gus and Hazel meet, become exceptionally good friends and fall in love, all against the backdrop of a once in a lifetime trip to Amsterdam, romantic picnics and a good old fashioned egging of a friend’s ex-girlfriend’s car.

However, this film is a romcom like no other, due to the audience’s awareness that all of these happy, funny and uplifting moments are deeply undercut by the pervasive presence of the illnesses of the two protagonists. Hazel suffers from thyroid cancer that has spread into her lungs, resulting in her having an oxygen tank with her at all times, whilst Gus suffers from Osteosarcoma, resulting in the loss of one of his legs. This twist on the traditional romcom makes for an extremely moving and tragic film, throughout which the audience is constantly in hope for the recovery of the two characters.

Throughout the ups and downs of the film, the audience and the teenagers move as one; we feel elated at the prospect of the trip to Amsterdam in order for Hazel to meet the author of her favourite book, and we are devastated when an emergency trip to the hospital results in it being postponed. We laugh with Hazel at Gus’ goofy tricks and witticisms, whilst we are deeply affected by the tragic climax of the movie and the horrible confrontation with Van Houten.

The tone of the film is extremely light hearted at times, but moves towards tragedy and intense emotion, resulting in an extremely powerful film throughout which the audience cannot help but progress through a range of emotions. However, the light heartedness with which the teenagers and their friend Isaac, a fellow cancer sufferer, discuss and deal with their illness can strike the audience as slightly discomforting at first: cancer is not a subject one expects to make a joke out of. This, combined with frequent medical references, can make for a slightly disturbing viewing at the beginning of the film.

However, as the film progresses, this light-heartedness becomes apparent as serving a purpose: it is just one of the many ways in which the teenagers demonstrate their mettle, refusing to let their illness define them, upset them or limit their life in any way. Consequently, the audience is able to engage with the characters much more; they defy the usual conventions of self pity and sympathy expected in a film dealing with such emotional matters, and convey a strength that only serves to heighten the emotional response of the audience as they embark on a journey that can only end in tragedy.

I was not overly impressed by Gus at the beginning of the film; whilst Ansel Elgort is an exceptional actor, his portrayal of Gus is slightly too wooden to begin with and just verging on annoying at the start. However, he develops and grows throughout the film, resulting in his portrayal of Gus being one of the many highlights of the film, accurately conveying Gus’ intelligence, determination to make his mark on the world and his unwavering kindness. But, the star of the show can only be Shailene Woodley, who gives a moving, uplifting and inspiring portrayal of Hazel, encompassing her compassion, thoughtfulness and intelligence. I expect to see much more of her in the future.

Whilst some of the film can appear too happy go lucky at times, and consequently too Hollywoodised, The Fault in Our Stars is an incredibly moving, uplifting and inspiring film, throughout which the audience is at one with the characters, sharing their emotions and their pains and, at the climax of the film, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It is no wonder that the film scooped up nearly every award at the Teen Choice Awards, and was one of the highest grossing films of the year.  Coupled with the exceptional direction of John Boone, a fairly unknown newcomer on the scene who manages to captivate an audience throughout the entire film, it is obvious that the only way is up for this film and its stars.

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