July Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 5 years ago

There seem to be no faults in Shailene Woodley’s stars. The teenage thespian has made some bright career choices and is also an exceptional actress. Her latest film, The Fault in Our Stars, again offers her ample opportunities to own her character and naturally, she does. It’s a note-perfect and nuanced performance by Woodley, who never caricatures disease-ridden Hazel Grace. She’s complimented well by the wonderful Ansel Elgort, who plays Augustus Waters, a character with not only a rock star’s name, but attitude as well. Elgort has talent by the bucket.

Their chemistry makes The Fault in Our Stars watchable — and only just. The plot, adapted from John Green’s young adult bestseller, is solely designed to make you cry and while many viewers will indeed sob their way through it, the unconvincing screenplay and Josh Boone’s flawed direction cannot be denied.

Hazel Grace and August Waters are cancer patients, who meet at a church support group led by the always entertaining Mike Birbiglia. Enough sparks fly for a friendship to develop, although when your days are numbered and you have terminal thyroid (Hazel Grace) or bone cancer (Augustus), there will always be a nagging reminder at the back of your mind, that a long-term relationship isn’t really an option. Realistic Hazel grasps this better than Augustus, who is a happy-go-lucky guy carrying a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, putting one between his lips every now and again but never actually lighting it, because why give something the power to kill you? August explains this nifty little metaphor to Hazel in a charming scene, perhaps the film’s best, but it all goes downhill from there.

Hazel’s favourite book is An Imperial Affliction, written by an American author who is living in Europe as a recluse. Augustus literally makes his last wish to go to Amsterdam with Hazel and her mother (Laura Dern) to track down this author and ask him about the book’s abrupt ending. The entire sequence in Amsterdam is appalling — not only are the scenes with the author (Willem Dafoe) unnecessarily confusing, but there’s one sequence in the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam which is so cringe worthy, that Justin Bieber’s comments last year actually sound harmless in comparison. It’s easily this year’s biggest ‘what the fish’ moment.

The Fault in Our Stars is by no means an exceptional movie, but the fact that it has been such a huge success the world over suggests that it has served its purpose. That purpose being to manipulate its target audience to weep throughout the film and still feel hopeful about life at the end.

It doesn’t and shouldn’t get to everyone though. And those cynics have only one question to ask: why is The Fault in Our Stars so utterly manipulative? The charming leads and potential dramatic quality of the story are easily undone by the filmmaker’s handling of the subject.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s July 2014 issue under the headline, “The Fault in the Film.”

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany