What to Expect
The number of young adult movies on the rise of late is ridiculous, as best. As a business move, however, it makes great money. Looking at successful franchises of the likes of The Hunger Games, Twilight, and – now to teeter in the direction – The Divergent Series, one can easily spell out what’s really common in all of these series:
- They’re love stories;
- They’re basically covered around some out-of-this-world fantasy; and of course
- They’re based off ‘bestsellers’.
Now, not a lot of people expect a film directed toward the young-adult audience bracket – or even one featuring coming-of-age stories with these performers – to be a great film, save even a good one. The cynicism toward these films, however, is absolutely justified. Films like those in The Twilight Saga‘s entire franchise spawned a trend of picking up books not-so-well-written and turning them into films not so well-made (Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Instruments anyone?). This is where the now ever-so-slightly neglected coming-of-age films and dramedies come in.
Showing themselves like the struggling silver lining of positivity, there have been some absolutely amazing additions to this side of these films. We’ve seen Emma Stone wow the audience in Will Gluck’s Easy A, and then we’ve seen Stephen Chbosky rewrite and direct the emotionally realistic and relevant The Perks of Being a Wallflower, adapted from his own book. For the mature watchers, there has also been The Spectacular Now, which has covered the grappling of ideals at the age in a very discomforting, yet truthful fashion. Following closely on those footsteps is John Green’s straightforward novella The Fault in Our Stars, which is now a movie with quite a set of positive expectations backing it:
- Shailene Woodley is now a craze. Ever since Divergent, we’ve got to admit, she’s had an absolute change in popularity. The thing is, it helps by leaps and bounds that she’s an excellent performer.
- The movie’s admittedly fresh, straightforward source material by (otherwise) YouTube sensation John Green gets its adaptation for screen helmed by writer duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose strong filmography include films like (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now.
- Finally, it’s got a good trailer that doesn’t seem to reveal much. At this time and age, it’s very important for trailers to go back to the trick of keeping the important threads under wraps for the film to affect the viewers accordingly
This comes as no surprise thus that there is still skepticism looming because of the audience it’s directed to.
What’s it About?
Skepticism turns to cynicism when you know you’re going to die, by the way. Really. Ask Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley), whose life couldn’t get any worse when she’s diagnosed as depressed and is forced to go to cancer support groups. During one of these meetings, she bumps into Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort; Divergent), who is super perfect, and tends to fall in love with him. But, well, this is no Twilight and he’s no vampire to make her immortal. This dooms the relationship enough, right? Well, you wouldn’t know the half of it.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now, one of the biggest challenges in making a movie directed towards young adults is to make the movie less derivative and more successful at the same time. Woodley starrer Divergent, which definitely made the proceedings entirely watchable, still felt a lot more derivative than it should have, especially considering the concept had potential to look in a different league than The Hunger Games (now a successful franchise). This leaves us with The Fault in Our Stars, a movie that definitely feels like a love story from the trailers, but is actually a slight bit more than just that. A pretty smart move, if you ask this writer. For an opinion of one who has already read the book, this movie may have some incidents shuffled around, and some more important ones taken away. This, for those who understand the essence of the material, won’t make them happy. For those, however, who have seen the film alone, the content will be appreciated. Care has mostly been taken to make away with the manipulative trappings a movie like this consists of. Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) follows the laid-back direction he took with the Greg Kinnear starrer, thereby perfectly complementing the mostly strong screenwriting by duo Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber ((500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now).
Technically, the movie is supported by Ben Richardson’s (Drinking Buddies) strong cinematography. While the camerawork ably supports the ably written and acted dialogue driven scenes, it’s those small nuggets Richardson works with regard to visual atmosphere that take the cake away. Music by Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott work their way round the film really well. The choice of supporting tracks through the film speak detailing proudly (Afasi and Filthy’s Bomfalleralla will surprise readers of the book for obvious reasons). The production design manages to keep the film simple and grounded through the entire time. Nothing is prim and perfect in the minimalist, deliberately homespun art direction; fitting in well with the movie’s themes. Robb Sullivan’s (Stuck in Love) edit is delicate and consistent. Doesn’t cut fast or linger on with shots, making for just the right time.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Shailene Woodley is a performer who has deservedly gotten the fame she’s seen. Right from her performance as the messed up Alex in The Descendants, all the way up to this film, she’s given her all to roles, becoming the person she enacts every single time. Ansel Elgort is ridiculously good looking, and with that he brings effortlessness and charm into his performance here. What’s not to like? Nat Wolff as Isaac is funny with his variety of emotions his lends his sincerity to. Laura Dern (Tenderness) as Hazel-Grace’s mother she exudes nothing but sheer realism, giving subtle hints of inner pain around the edges. Sam Trammell (True Blood) as Hazel Grace’s father (to this writer’s absolutely personal opinion) deserved better runtime through the film. He’s efficient nevertheless. Willem Dafoe (Thew Grand Budapest Hotel) does exceptionally well as Van Houten. Ditto for Lotte Verbeek as his secretary Lidewij. Others are good.
For a romantic dramedy, The Fault in Our Stars shines for two absolutely definitive reasons: the movie decidedly veers off the road to manipulation, and it has an effective spin on love and growing up with the conflict points well played upon. For readers who enjoyed the book, there will be phases of the film they may wish had been played upon differently (apart from already knowing what’s to come in the film). For viewers of the film alone though, this will be an extremely watchable movie, with a cast that sincerely performs to a finely written screenplay that attempts to stop falling into the usual traps and tropes of a film driven by – and directed to – today’s young adults.
Well worth the watch.
Star Rating: 3.5 / 5
PS: Apologies for the late review guys! It’s been a hell of a ride in between watching the movie and writing my thoughts down!