'The Fault in our Stars'
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elgort
It's hard to make a movie featuring a cancer-ridden protagonist without resorting to grating sentimentality, mawkish melodrama and emotional manipulation. These are the setbacks of nearly every film with a terminally ill hero or heroine. 'The Fault in our Stars' sort of manages to transcend these setbacks, thanks to its source material.
Based on the popular book of the same name by John Green, 'The Fault in our Stars' follows the route taken by films such as 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' and 'The Spectacular Now'. Like those films, this is a teenage angsty drama, but with sensitive, assured direction and some interesting writing to pad up the melodrama and thus become a decent film.
The film stars Shailene Woodley (recently seen in 'The Descendants', 'Divergent', and not seen in the 'Spiderman' sequel) as Hazel, a 17-year-old diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After being urged by her mother (Laura Dern), she joins a weekly cancer support group and meets Augustus (Ansel Elgorth) who has beaten cancer but lost a leg in the process.
This seems to be a perfect setup for a cringe-inducing melodrama but the film surprisingly finds some wit and humour in the situations of the two protagonists. Unlike the brain damage causing interaction between two buffoons in the 'Twilight' movies, the back and forth between Hazel and Augustus is fun and even funny at times. They talk about art and culture instead of sappy stuff – it makes the story and the characters meaningful and interesting to look at. The characters are also three dimensional, and relatable so you can somehow connect to them on some level.
Director Josh Boone (who earlier made the indie film, 'Stuck in Love') somehow manages to make the film sad without overtly dramatising the setup. It also seems like he took a few cues from the Seth Rogen-Joseph Gordon Levitt classic '50-50' seeing as he injects some humour into the film without overtly desensitising the plight of the characters. It helps that the film is led by Woodley, who oozes a ton of talent and range, but the biggest surprise is Willem Dafoe as a famous author whom Hazel wants to meet as a sort of a dying wish. It's best not to spoil his role, so you'll have to see the film to understand why he's great. You don't need to read the book prior to watching the film, though I did end up reading it after seeing the film, and I suggest you do the same.