Shakespeare could not have written a more telling story. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves,” he wrote – and as author-turned-cultural sensation John Green wisely noted, “It is in the nature of stars to cross.” Perhaps, fans of the immensely popular John Green novel, The Fault in Our Stars, have more than the stars to thank for, as actors Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort deliver an unforgettable and innovative performance that seemingly engineers the two-hour movie adaptation into a machine designed to mass-produce tears.
Bring tissue, indeed, because the tale of two cancer-stricken teens, who are both desperate to make the most out of their little infinity, is apparently too heavy a burden for human hearts to carry (and here, you may heave a sigh at the futility of mankind to easily fall for plotlines of the sort). That, however, is merely the poster story for those who have neither read nor heard about John Green’s beloved book. In truth, The Fault In Our Stars is a tragic depiction – a celebration, really – of young narcissism. Unlike other tales heaped with terminal illnesses of any kind, this one does not try to write off cancer as a monster to defy; Hazel and Gus (played by Woodley and Elgort, respectively) both wryly accept their cancer stories, and instead try to work around them. The end result is a fresh, realistic, and painfully hopeless anecdote that tells more about the preciousness of little moments in our lives than about the horrors of cancer.
It is still, however, a story of love and loss and time worn down to its frayed edges. Gus and Hazel’s moral absolutism of refusing self-pity and of their ability to assert the truth of their situation reflects their knowledge of the meaning of their lives. For this, they are infinitely wiser than most people – and ironically enough, we give cancer credit for this ability to appreciate life. People shed tears for them, not purely because of the inevitability of their own loss and the futility of their own love, but also because of their brave insistence to make do with their own little infinity. Their lack of misanthropy ensures the viewers’ infinite sympathy.
While the ingenuity of the plot may be credited to John Green, the movie adaptation, in itself, has undeniable emotional power. Director Josh Boone’s film successfully tones down some of John Green’s wordier (and arguably, more emotionally-wrought) prose. Extremely devoted fans of the book may not appreciate the omissions of certain characters and lines, but the film is potent and grounded enough to appear natural and coherent, particularly to unfamiliar eyes. There were a few too many close-up scenes that successfully sustain and train the attention of the viewers upon the star-crossed birds (funnily enough, both Gus and Hazel would scoff at the idea of them being called ‘star-crossed birds’), and the soundtrack was flighty and ethereal enough to aptly epitomize the fickleness of Hazel and Gus’ finite days.
Arguably, the hamartia of the film (and the book) lies at its being too manipulative and tragic enough to use the no-fail disease-of-the-week formula to give more weight to the plot. But even this can be overlooked by the flawless acting chops of both Woodley and Elgort, whose fusion of vulnerability without encouraging self-pity, deadpan humor and wit, and powerfully tender and irresistible chemistry gave way to a film that is unhurried and awkward and all the more beautiful for it.
The Fault In Our Stars can only be, perhaps, the wisest teenage romance of the year. It is utterly pragmatic (albeit a bit too cheesy, but who can find fault in that?), un-self-conscious, and has quickly devolved from being light and witty to being a mixture of confusion, innocence, heartbreak, and painful wonder. It is conventional and unconventional at the same time – a refreshing tragedy, tart without being too cynical. It avoids the trappings of a typical Nicholas Sparks plot for its ability to make you purposefully yet sensibly melodramatic. You will laugh and cry for characters, which you will grow to love in a mere span of two hours. For a book-to-movie adaptation, this film is not just okay; it is more than okay.
Rating: 3.5/4 stars