Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
If the quality of a film was measured in the litres of tears its audience cried over it, then The Fault in Our Stars would be an instant classic. Though what else would you expect of a teen romance cancer tragedy?
Sixteen- year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster has cancer. What started as thyroid cancer has now spread to her lungs and as a result she requires constant oxygen and is forced to wheel around a tank with her. Her favourite novel is “An Imperial Affliction,” a book about a girl with cancer which vividly captures her own experience. At one of the support groups her parents insist she go to, she meets Augustus Waters. Charming and witty, Augustus is a cancer survivor, though has an artificial leg to show for his experience. Augustus falls for Hazel immediately, but Hazel resists becoming romantically attached, believing she is a ticking time bomb and only pain can come from getting involved with her. But Augustus is determined and pulls some strings to enable Hazel and him to travel to Amsterdam to meet the author of “An Imperial Affliction.”
Based on the best-selling 2012 novel of the same title by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars packs an emotional wallop. Its title is a reference to a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” But sometimes the fault is in our stars. Sometimes people just get dealt a bad hand and there is nothing they can do to change it. This is a story about two young people who have been dealt such a hand, and know that this could be their only chance at a great love. Yet despite the spectre hanging over the film, The Fault in Our Stars shows that a short life can still be a full one.
Shailene Woodley is very much the up and coming it-girl of the moment and even at this early stage in her career has shown impressive diversity in films like The Descendents, The Spectacular Now and the sci-fi-adventure movie Divergent. She is very good in this film, delivering a performance as Hazel which seems to authentically capture the emotional experience of a young woman who knows she is sick and unlikely to ever get better. Her co-star Ansel Elgort (who, interestingly, played her brother in Divergent) is sure to make many a teenage girl swoon as the impossibly charming Augustus. But the fact that he is impossibly charming is a bit of a problem. His character doesn’t ring as true as hers. Where there is an authenticity to Hazel’s character and experience, Augustus doesn’t feel real. He feels like a teenage girl’s fantasy.
While the film will naturally resonate more with a teenage girl audience who can put themselves in Hazel’s shoes, The Fault in Our Stars explores some universal themes and is accessible to anyone. Those who react against being overtly manipulated by a film will struggle with The Fault in Our Stars, but the many fans of the book and those who are willing to be swept up in this journey will find it a melancholy, touching, yet still surprisingly funny experience. Just don’t forget your tissues.
Review by Duncan McLean
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Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Bob Odenkirk
High school senior Sutter Keely is a charming, fun guy, loved by everyone and the life of any party. Sutter lives in the moment, he lives for the now. But as he and his friends approach their high school graduation he finds that everyone else is looking forward, thinking of the future, making plans.
Through a chance encounter he meets Aimee Fineky. A shy, reserved girl, she knows him from school even though to him she has previously been invisible. Sutter finds something fascinating about Aimee, and she enjoys the attention. They become friends and ultimately come to love each other (but is that the same thing as being in love with each other?). Aimee and Sutter provide each other with much needed support. Both come from broken homes with absent fathers, Sutter’s through divorce and Aimee’s through death.
Sutter is a self-destructive character whose emphasis on the here and now is the result of an inability to deal with the past or face the future. He uses alcohol as a coping mechanism, constantly sipping from a hipflask he carries with him – a habit he soon transfers on Aimee – rarely getting excessively drunk but always having a buzz on. This insidious and constant presence of alcohol is much more confronting and uncomfortable than the usual representations of teen drinking we see on screen (massive party binging followed by throwing up and the rubbing or sore heads the next morning), and before long you find yourself willing him to stop.
The characters of Sutter and Aimee have a realism to them that you rarely find in screen teenagers. They look like real teenagers, not thirty year olds in backpacks. They sound like real teenagers, not the razor sharp fantasies of an all-too-clever screenwriter. The two young leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, are not household names but their performances carry this film. The two, who work so well together it is difficult to consider their performances separately, deliver incredibly authentic portrayals of teenage lovers dealing with all the confusion and uncertainty of youth. The pair received a Special Jury Prize for Acting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival “for two young actors who showed rare honesty, naturalism and transparency and whose performances brought out the best in each other,” an apt description of what they bring to this film.
From the screenwriters who delivered the gem 500 Days of Summer a couple of years ago, The Spectacular Now is a film that requires some time to process. It leaves you with a number of questions, resisting the urge to wrap everything up in a nice neat bow. The result is an honest and affecting film, a teenage love story for adults which doesn’t trivialise the teenage experience.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean