- Movie Rating -

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

| June 6, 2014 | 0 Comments

It is nearly impossible to make a film about terminal illness and not make it heartfelt. The Fault in Our Stars has its heart in the right place but – WOW! – you walk out wishing that someone would shake the dust and clutter and broken fragments off the screenplay so it can flow with more efficiency. Here is a movie that is so busy being profound that the characters feel trapped by plot gimmicks and stale dialogue.

Based on the bestselling book by John Greene, the movie stars the talented Shailene Woodly as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager with Stage 4 thyroid cancer with metastasis forming in her lungs. She’s been living with this disease since she was 13, and now she lugs around an oxygen tank with a nasal cannula. Hazel is distant, a bit surly and more than a little bit cynical about the world. In other words, she’s a normal teenager. Her parents force her to attend a cancer survivor support group that is led by an overly emotional group leader who begins each session by unrolling a large rug with a big – and somewhat unnerving – picture of Jesus on it.

One day in group she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a fellow teen who confidently announces that he is suffering from osteosarcoma which has already claimed the lower part of his right leg. He’s a nice guy that Hazel meet-cutes when she bumps into him in the hallway. There is little resistance from either side as to how they feel about one another and in the blink of an eye, they fall in love.

That’s more or less all that you need to know. The connection between Hazel and Augustus is not really built on chemistry but on the fact that they both suffer from terminal illness. The movie doesn’t have the flow of real life, but is built on conventions of the plot. Everything in their relationship is calculated for effect, we get gimmicks instead of narrative. For example, Augustus carries around a pack of cigarettes and occasionally puts one in his mouth. Hazel is disgusted but Augustus offers this explanation: “They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing. A metaphor.” That’s fine, but the sight of Augustus with the cigarette in his mouth looks as ridiculous as it sounds. He puts the unlit cigarette in his mouth so often that we want to take his away from him and say “STOP THAT!!”

The movie is loaded with strange moments like that. There is an odd subplot about a book that Hazel has read over and over by a mysterious author named Peter Van Haughton who has apparently disappeared into seclusion somewhere in Amsterdam. After a long and pointless series of arguments with doctors and with Hazel’s parent, she and Augustus accept an invitation to fly to Amsterdam to meet him. Van Haughton is played in an angry performance by Willem DeFoe that seems shoe-horned in as if he were visiting from a different movie.

Worse is what comes next. Hazel and Augustus visit Anne Frank’s house. Naturally, Hazel has trouble climbing the series of steep staircases. When she reaches the famous attic, there is little to no attention paid to the fact that they are in Anne Frank’s famous hiding place. Instead, the scene climaxes with Hazel and Augustus’s first kiss, to which all the strangers around them begin to applaud.

The movie never really deals with the issue of what it is like to live with cancer, or the inevitability that it will claim your life. The dialogue lightly dances around these issues but no one ever gets serious about discussing them. They know they’re going to die but neither Augustus nor Hazel ever get down to the serious business of discussing what lies on the other side. Augustus talks a lot about “oblivion”, which indicates that he is an atheist, but the movie doesn’t go there. We know from the beginning that one or both characters will face the final curtain before the movie is over, but the film’s final act is a long – very long – series of slow passages about eulogies and final wishes that goes on and on and on. It should be moving us to tears but you find yourself checking your watch instead.

Hazel informs us in the beginning that “Pain deserves to be felt.” We agree, but the movie could do with a lot more pain and a lot less catharsis. The characters talk and talk and talk and talk, but nothing they have to say has any real meaning. Death is the inevitability of this story, but there’s such a long and drawn-out funerary tone to the film’s third act that is tinged with so much hope and finality that it feels like the happiest sad ending you’ve ever seen.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Recent