The Fault in Our Stars
What you wanted
For a story about an ill-fated romance between two cancer-stricken youths, The Fault in Our Stars is natural and restrained in bringing the torrential downpour of tears from its audience. Not that the storytelling isn’t worthy of the teenage blubbering it inevitably caused, but the delicate subject matter of youth (or anyone of any age) dealing with cancer is handled with a level of honesty that demands to be simply recognized rather than pitied. The film (and its novel source material written by John Green) uses subtle brutality to prove that any life, no matter how short, can burn as bright as it wants to. This particular film burns radiantly.
Though the dialogue sometimes walks a thin line between genuine life wisdom and assault via Hallmark get-well-soon cards, leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort (both now firmly solidified in their own stardom) make even their cheesiest lines heartfelt and natural. The two play a pair of disease-ravaged teens who instantly bond over their mutual dislike of a support group that Hazel’s mom (Laura Dern) forces her to attend in attempts to give her a ‘normal’ teenage social life.
Hazel Grace Lancaster suffers from thyroid cancer that forces her to lug an oxygen tank around for her weakened lungs, and Augustus Waters has recovered from osteosarcoma that left him with a single leg. It also apparently left him with a deep-set need to seek metaphor in everything (he carries around an unlit pack of cigarettes to prove he can come close to the ‘thing that does the killing’ without empowering it to kill him) and a pretentiousness that allows him to spout deep life quotes at random every few minutes. But again, we believe and love him, thanks to Elgort’s breezy aura of wisdom and fervency.
Hazel and Augustus fit together like soul mates tend to do, and Hazel lends him her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, a novel about a young girl suffering from cancer that ends in the middle of the sentence, leaving Hazel hanging for answers about the supporting characters. As she and Augustus become a couple (despite Hazel’s heartbreaking confession that she feels like a grenade with a time limit, and doesn’t want Augustus to get hurt when she explodes), Augustus uses his Make A Wish opportunity to take the two to Amsterdam and meet the book’s author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) and get the answers Hazel has been searching for.
Over beautiful scenery, editing, and an infectious indie-pop soundtrack perfect for the tone, the true story in Amsterdam is Hazel and Augustus’s romance. Woodley is well on her way of becoming a box office behemoth, and deservedly so after the scene in which Hazel has to climb a daunting amount of staircases while touring Anne Frank’s house, oxygen tank in hand. Hazel’s physical taxation, made palpably real in Woodley’s eyes and body, is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing on display.
This scene beautifully follows a dinner shared by the couple in one of Amsterdam’s finest restaurants, in which Augustus declares his love for Hazel, and also his awareness of its futility. But, as Hazel later points out, there’s an infinite amount of numbers between 0 and 1, and there’s a bigger amount of infinite numbers between 0 and 10. And though their infinity may be small, for them it’s still infinity.
When tragedy eventually strikes the audience is well prepared, but of course it’s beautifully miserable anyway. Perhaps the best part of the film is that, despite not being able to explore the impact cancer has on the patient’s life as deeply as the book does, it does somehow improve upon the book’s ending. The film is a constant crescendo in which each scene somehow tops the one before it. And though the haunting ending is told with an optimistic tone, the characters will linger with the audience for weeks. The film makes its own small infinity this way.