The story of a burgeoning love affair between two teenage cancer sufferers from an insanely popular title in young adult literature (more than nine million copies have been sold worldwide, thus far). With that hefty fanbase waiting to embrace it on the big screen, The Fault in Our Stars (2014) is as close to a sure- fire box office tearjerker giant as humanly possible. Thankfully, any noticeable traces of cynicism are largely absent in this adaptation of the 2012 novel. Under the assured direction of Josh Boone, the film earns its emotions without grand manipulative gestures, and finds its heart through the fantastic cast and an effortless and appealing intimacy between the characters.
The real boon here is the presence of Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) in the lead. Lazy Jennifer Lawrence comparisons aside, one thing this young actress shares with her fellow Hollywood contemporary is that she can convey a whole lot from seemingly doing very little. She brings much nuance and a heartbreaking delicacy to the role of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year-old with terminal cancer whose life has been prolonged by a new drug treatment. At the request of her loving parents, she reluctantly attends a support group where she meets and falls deeply for Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a fellow teen who is in remission. From the get-go, there’s the impression that a fair amount of care has been taken here in faithfully rendering the lives of Hazel and Augustus.
The first-person narration of the text is successfully transitioned to a cinematic setting, and Boone is good at masking exposition, deploying it in some surprisingly affecting flashback sequences and through the use of some nicely-staged montages. He’s able to balance the light with the dark, never losing focus on the hardships his characters encounter. Performance-wise, Elgort’s muscular, preppy good looks betray the level of quality and skill underneath, and he takes a character that, in print, sometimes come across as very literary and contrived, and manages to completely ground him. Willem Dafoe brings a much welcomed spikiness as the disgruntled alcoholic writer whose novel (and ambiguous ending) the teens obsess over, and Dern is utterly fantastic as Hazel’s long-suffering yet cautiously optimistic mother. Make no mistake – The Fault in Our Stars still fits snugly within that glossy Hollywood mould. Yet despite this, Boone’s film rarely strikes a false note, filled with the kind of poignant moments which will thaw even the coldest of hearts.