Oh joy, it’s the latest YA adaptation sensation! Maybe we should start dividing them into categories, the supernatural ones, the dystopian ones, and the weepy ones. The Fault in Our Stars is most definitely the third, a teen romance that takes place in the present real world.
Giving characters terminal cancer is an easy and shameless way to try and draw tears and to its credit, The Fault in Our Stars is completely upfront about it. We know both protagonist Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and love interest Augustus (Ansel Elgort) are afflicted; they meet in a cancer support group. This approach commendably saves TFIOS from ever even approaching the depths of awfulness manipulative garbage like A Walk to Remember do.
The Fault in Our Stars actually avoids several of the clichés prevalent in current YA adaptations too. Hazel is not just a dull, personality-free vessel for teenage girls to project themselves on to; she’s a likeable character and an interesting portrait of a teenager dealing with terminal cancer. It’s an effective turnaround for rising star Woodley, who was excellent in last year’s The Spectacular Now before giving us a prime example of the aforementioned lifeless lead in Divergent.
The film also features a third teen character, a blind kid called Isaac (Nat Wolff) who is given a moderately successful sub-plot of his own and ever-so-thankfully isn’t used to set up a love triangle situation.
While TFIOS may have managed to secure a decent female lead, the same can’t be said for her male counterpart. Elgort (who weirdly played Woodley’s brother in Divergent) might be blandly handsome but aside from the whole cancer thing makes for a very dull co-star. The only notable personality trait he possesses is an obnoxious habit of putting cigarettes in his mouth but resisting the urge to light them.
Most of the film is about as engaging as it’s leading man is. This is a very standard teen romance with added terminal illness. The whole film is very poorly paced and mostly tedious. I found it hard to care much about the characters and never even came close to crying once, a reaction the film is blatantly attempting to draw. It’s already got a lot of flak for a make-out scene in the Anne Frank house that I can’t really say whether or not I would have cared about had I not known in advance, but the film had basically lost me by the time we got to it anyhow.
Hazel’s parents (a well-cast Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) are actually more compelling than the leads, and now I wonder if I’d have preferred the film if it just nixed the boring romance entirely and told a story about how a family copes with a cancer-stricken teen.
I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now, occasionally adding to it, as I struggled to even gather the enthusiasm to find some things to say about The Fault in Our Stars. When the strongest impression a film makes on you is that “eh, the sappy power ballad that played over the end credits was alright” it doesn’t speak to highly for it.