Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Not since Harry Potter or The Hunger Games has a film based on a young adult novel been so highly anticipated as the 2014 adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The major difference about this movie, however, is that it’s not an action-packed adventure set in a fantasy world. Instead, it’s a very small-scale romance dealing with the reality of cancer. The movie is both hilarious and heartbreaking (often at the same time), and it already seems destined to become a classic.

Author John Green has become a fixture of the young adult genre over the last decade. His novels such as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns have been critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Still, no one could have predicted how popular Green’s fifth book, The Fault in Our Stars, would become. The novel debuted in the number one spot for children’s books on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it remained on top for seven consecutive weeks. Reviewers couldn’t praise the book highly enough, and it quickly found an audience among adult readers in addition to teens. The novel has sold almost 10 million copies internationally, and it has been translated into almost 50 different languages. It came as no surprise, therefore, when 20th Century Fox snatched up the movie rights in 2012.

The Fault in Our Stars sets itself apart from almost any other “teen” movie ever made in the way that it deals with the reality of living with a life-threatening illness. 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) suffers from thyroid cancer and is undeniably terminal. Her life gets turned upside down at her cancer support group when she meets 18-year-old Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort)—an enigmatic young man in remission from osteosarcoma. The two teens fall in love and experience a once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind romance that rivals film history’s best onscreen relationships.

Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to assume that a movie about kids with cancer (which has been advertised as the tearjerker of the decade) is going to have its fair share of unfortunate events—like “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” it’s never destined to end happily. Still, a movie without any hope manages to maintain a very “hopeful” tone and may make you question everything you’ve ever thought about illness, death, and oblivion. It’s all but guaranteed that you will cry, but you’ll also laugh out loud and may almost feel envious of these two sick teens who find a way to really live in spite of their dire situations.

Woodley—who got her start on ABC Family’s Secret Life of the American Teenager and was an Oscar nominee for her role in The Descendants—gives an incredible performance that should put her on the short list of award contenders this year. Her Hazel is lovably wry but completely believable, and she truly carries the film. Elgort makes it easy for audiences to fall in love with Augustus at the same time Hazel does, and he is able to display a raw vulnerability underneath his character’s bravado. Also memorable are Willem Dafoe as the despicable author Peter van Houten, Nat Wolff as eye cancer survivor Isaac, and Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother.

As with all book adaptations, fans of the original source material may be wary about how the tone and story of the novel will translate to film. For The Fault in Our Stars, any trepidation you might have about seeing the movie can go out the window. The film is extremely true to Green’s book, and the few minor changes simply make the story work better on screen. On the whole, whether you have read the novel or this is your first introduction to the epic love between Hazel Grace and Augustus, The Fault in Our Stars is an excellent adaptation of a compelling story.

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