Fans of novel will find little fault with film
For fans of John Green’s best-selling novel, watching the film adaptation of “The Fault in Our Stars” will be like a Cedar Point water ride.
They’ll start out giddy with excitement and anticipation. When it’s over, they’ll be drenched, in this case in their own tears.
The film, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by Josh Boone, is exceedingly faithful to the book that inspired it, not only structurally but in preserving the tone of Green’s writing. Any drama about teen cancer patients is sure to have its tears, but the filmmakers, much like Green, use both humor and honesty to leaven the mood. It’s a potential minefield of maudlin moments, and Boone avoids nearly all of them.
The story is narrated by Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), who should have died from stage four thyroid cancer when she was 13, but an experimental drug has staved off the disease longer than her doctors or anyone expected. At a cancer support group (led by Mike Birbiglia in a small, but hilarious role) she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort), who lost his right leg to cancer but has an 85 percent chance of survival.
One of the things they bond over is Hazel’s favorite novel, “An Imperial Affliction,” the story of a girl with cancer that ends in mid-sentence. They obsess over what might have happened to the other characters in the book as their interest in each other intensifies. While Grace wasted her make-a-wish from the “cancer genies” to go to Disney World when she was 13, Gus still has his wish and uses it to get a trip to Amsterdam for the two of them to meet the book’s reclusive author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), in hopes of getting answers to their questions.
But, as cancer patients know all too well, things don’t always turn out as planned.
One of the smartest things Boone did was casting Woodley and Elgort as his leads. Having sat through more than a couple episodes of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” thanks to having two daughters, I’m still a little taken aback by the subtlety and skill Woodley shows on the big screen. But after “The Descendents,” “The Spectacular Now” and now “Fault,” I guess I shouldn’t be anymore.
Elgort and Woodley played brother and sister in “Divergent.” Reading “Fault” after seeing that film, my reaction was, “Really? That’s the guy they got to play Gus?” However, he’s proves to be well-suited to the role. Teenaged girls (and their mothers) are likely to swoon the way Hazel ultimately does. The relationship between the young couple feels real and natural.
The supporting roles are equally well cast. Isaac, Gus’ best friend who loses his eyesight – and his girlfriend – because of cancer, has a smaller role in the film than the book, but Nat Wolff serves as comic relief and still is able to bring some emotional depth to the character. Laura Dern conveys all of the conflicting emotions felt by Hazel’s mother – trying to give her the freedom to enjoy what life she has while trying (and occasionally failing) to avoid clinging to her every moment she can.
Only a visit to the Anne Frank House and the explanation for Van Houten’s behavior feel trite and strike the wrong tone. Both worked better in the book, but there’s little to find fault with in this adaptation.