Written by: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe
Death is inevitable for all living things but in the best of cases an individual only has to face it at a point in life where they have fully lived. Having it occur to young children with the rest of their years ahead of them is just truly unfair. Terminal illnesses like cancer ravage the lives of youngsters in its indiscriminate ways and The Fault in Our Stars resolutely displays how it can impact the psyche of these children. The unfairness of life gets put on full display and lands a dagger right in the heart.
Dealing with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, Hazel (Shailene Woodley) knows the reality of her life and how it will never be like the other teenagers around her. She knows death can come for her at any minute with all sense of normality gone. Everything shifts upon her meeting Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) allowing her to view life through a different lens.
Adapted from the incredibly popular young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars came with plenty of hype behind its release. Known for being a tear-jerker it meant it had the potential to wreck me and through this review, I can confirm it did just that. With as much as we can roll our eyes at the young adult genre in the way they write these teenagers to be modern-day philosophers, this feature film contains so much heart and compassion to melt away any cynicism I could possibly hold against it. Yes, there are the moments where my eyes may have gone to the back of my head like when Augusts explains the reason why he carries a cigarette in his mouth, but the sincerity on display cannot be ignored.
At the center of it all and defining the reason this adaptation works is Shailene Woodley as Hazel. She stands as the foundation and ensures to keep the ship afloat even in its rocky fluctuations. Very much the heart and soul of this story, from the beginning she shows right away why she rightfully should feel dour about her life. She witnesses everyone else around her living the normal teenage years while she remains strapped to an oxygen machine to actually breathe. An inconvenience at best but it keeps her alive so there’s only so much that can be done. If she’s a bit depressed, there’s no one who could blame her as she has the bright potential of her life slowly taken away by a disease she did not ask for. Through everything, the story remaining on her as the focal point allows for the annoying segments with Augustus to work splendidly well. No matter what occurred, we’re all here for her and the journey she must take on.
Woodley absolutely dazzles with her work as Hazel in the way she captures the teenage angst of this character along with the necessary sympathy she needs to draw from the audience. Sure, having a terminal illness could help with that but even in her brattiest moment, Woodley maintains the necessary affection of the audience. She anchors the entire film.
Expectations came high with this one, specifically coming from my wife who adored the book as a teen. While she specifically stated some moments were done much better in the novelization, for a feature film, this adaptation nails most of the emotional beats. From the eulogy in the church and the tender moments shared between Hazel and her mother, tears were sneaking their way from the ducts to the cheek. With the only major letdown coming from the final letter, which was hyped strongly by book readers, this film hits all of the right notes in showing the tragedy involved in the lives of these young teenagers. Yes, the losses felt here can get over the top but with the lifespan they have been given, even the smallest moments make the biggest difference.
With every opportunity to cause plenty of eye rolls, The Fault in Our Stars reaches the height of its potential in good form by outlining the reality of the lives of these teenagers in its darkest sense along with providing them with the time of their lives as well. All of the potential they have together allows the audience to enjoy the precious time they have, which carries more importance than we could possibly fathom. Filling up the cup of our hearts with its sentimentality in all of the best ways, put this feature in the win column of the often-shoddy young adult adaptations.