mon 21/05/2018

The Fault in Our Stars | reviews, news & interviews

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

Slickly produced weepie sells truth short

Young love cut short: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in `The Fault in Our Stars'

For a film that begins with the remark "this is the truth, sorry", The Fault in Our Stars could up its honesty quotient. Slickly made and very nicely acted within the confines allowed by the script, Josh Boone's adaptation of John Green's young-adult blockbuster novel nonetheless can't help but sell candour (not to mention plausibility) down a tear-laden river in its tale of young love cut short by cancer. I was more or less going along with a narrative that sells its lack of sentimentality like a badge of honour - until a scene set at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam of such startling insensitivity and phoniness that all the movie's faults suddenly come crashing down around it.

To backtrack, this is the tale of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley, making her bid for the big time), an indrawn 16-year-old with a conspicuous lack of friends who was diagnosed age 13 with cancer, since which time she wears plastic tubing to help her breathe and carries around a portable oxygen tank as a visual reminder of the baggage - both physiological and psychic - that her illness has brought with it. Wry, sardonic, and determined not to milk her ailment for easy bathos, Hazel finds her self-containment thrown amorously off-guard by the arrival in her life of Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a dashing, witty 18-year-old who has lost part of one leg to cancer. Completing the adolescent triptych is Gus's great friend Isaac (the winning Nat Wolff, an alumnus of Boone's 2013 film Stuck in Love), who is going blind and spends most of the film sightless, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses. 

Ansel Elgort (left) and Shailene WoodleyThe landscape here is clearly one of pain, and there is something entirely commendable about the way in which its participants for the most part get on with their lives, their occasional medical setbacks shown mostly via flashback even as the present-day focuses on the burgeoning romance between the charmingly forward Gus and the more cautious Hazel. While Hazel gently rebuffs Gus's advances, forever insisting that the two are merely good friends, Gus persists with his mordantly funny courtship: he describes his condition, for starters, as an "excellent weight-loss strategy", given how "very heavy" legs actually are. And Elgort (pictured above right) manages his character's chivalry with an ease that should propel the 20-year-old New Yorker to tween superstardom. 

If Gus can do one thing for his beloved Hazel, it is to whisk her away to Amsterdam so that she can meet the novelist, Peter Van Houten (a grizzled Willem Dafoe) whom she has admired from afar and quiz him about a favourite book of his that also happens to end teasingly mid-sentence. At the same time, this quest for artistic closure might seal the deal on the couple's affections, as indeed turns out to be the case during a scene - set during the aforementioned visit to the Anne Frank House - implying that Hazel represents a variant on the much-vaunted diarist herself. The thought that hiding out from the Nazis and dealing with cancer might be two entirely different things seems not to have crossed anyone's mind.  

Sam Trammell and Laura DernEven worse, the locale becomes the site of the kiss toward which events have been building, a moment that elicits applause - huh? - from fellow tourists in the room. Quite why a gathering of visitors to one of the defining Holocaust-related destinations in the world would cheer on a smooch between two people they have never seen before makes about as little sense as the ease with which Hazel manages the entire trip, given the ongoing war she is waging with her lungs - as she elsewhere is quick to remind us. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber may be Hollywood's go-to team at the moment, but they can't seem to decide whether to lay bare the lacerations of illness (asked whether she's okay, Hazel at one point replies with a barely audible, and rending, "no") or succumb to the sorts of conventions that were pretty hoary in the comparably-themed Love Story 40-plus years ago. Hazel may be a self-described "grenade", but the film would be far more honest - not to mention moving - if she ever did explode. 

One instead waits in vain for any of the characters to be resentful or dangerously angry or even to indulge the self-pity that is theirs by right, and one includes in this parents who on this evidence constitute a supremely self-sacrificing lot, the excellent Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel's mum and dad chief among them. (The two are pictured above left.) A final meltdown from Gus notwithstanding, our central pair ultimately come across as ever-attractive, always-engaging poster children for forbearance. Where are the abrasions - the rough-and-tumble of the soul as well as the distress to the body - that arrive all too fully with illness? On this evidence, they remain tucked away behind preternatural poise until such time as there is a cue for tears. This movie can parade its "truth" as much as it likes, but I for one don't buy it. 

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars

 


Where are the abrasions - the rough-and-tumble of the soul as well as the distress to the body - that arrive all too fully with illness

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Average: 2 (1 vote)

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