No 'Fault' here
‘The Fault in Our Stars’ offer a romance for the ages
By Carl Kozlowski 06/05/2014
There’s been a void in movie theaters in the past 26 years since John Hughes wrote and produced “Some Kind of Wonderful,” his last flick aimed specifically at teenagers. That movie ended a string of six films — including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty in Pink” — that portrayed teens with a level of respect, intelligence, humor and warmth that was unprecedented in Hollywood.
Since then, teens have kept going to the movies, but aside from rare classics like “Say Anything” and “Clueless,” the movies have abandoned any attempt to portray them in a truthful way. Instead, it seems that every teen in a movie is a vampire or a werewolf, or forced to kill other kids in a dystopian future.
While those kinds of scary plotlines might make a good metaphor for teens transforming through puberty and acne, they are largely cold and effects-driven, lacking real heart. But this weekend, a new movie has come to save the day and remind filmmakers how to make a great teen movie that transcends its target audience to offer a powerful emotional effect to anyone who sees it: “The Fault In Our Stars.”
Based on a massive and critically acclaimed bestseller by John Green, “Fault” follows the story of two Indiana high schoolers, Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) who fall in love after meeting in a support group for teens with cancer. Hazel narrates parts of the film, but rather than being self-absorbed, her commentary comes in quick and sharp doses, with the story offering rich perspectives from all of its major characters.
Hazel has grown up fighting the disease, having battled thyroid cancer before it spread into her lungs, leaving her to wear a nasal breathing tube at all times and drag an oxygen tank around with her. She’s a recluse, having earned her GED before spending her days watching TV and taking online courses at the local community college.
Worried that she needs to socialize, Hazel’s mom (Laura Dern in a terrific performance) forces her to go to the support group, which is held inside an Episcopal church’s social hall. It’s in the support sessions that “Fault” makes it clear that it has a unique point of view on life, death, love and what our time on earth is supposed to mean, shot throughout with a sharp sense of humor, whereas other movies would merely wallow in tear-jerking moments.
Part of that humor comes from Hazel’s world-weary sarcasm, which she deploys to fill the uncertain void she feels she’s about to fall into at death. But Gus is vibrant and full of life despite having lost a leg to the disease, and the two soon start a friendship that deepens into love for him, while she’s afraid to get romantically involved because she doesn’t want to break anyone’s heart when she dies.
The two especially bond over Hazel’s favorite book, a novel by a reclusive one-time-only writer named Peter Von Houten (Willem Dafoe, who’s rarely been stronger) who now lives in Amsterdam. When Gus boldly writes Peter a note asking a series of philosophical questions the book inspired in him and Hazel, Peter invites them to visit, setting off a chain of events that consistently prove both deeply moving and unpredictable.
To say more about the plot would be to ruin its impact, which is tremendous. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber take things even higher than their superb work in last year’s Top 10-worthy “The Spectacular Now,” bringing Green’s book to onscreen life that’s complemented beautifully by a well-chosen collection of indie-pop songs that give “Fault” the feel of the similarly powerful Zach Braff film “Garden State.”
I can’t offer enough praise to the writers and to the original novelist Green, who give us refreshingly good kids to root for. As mentioned, no one’s turning into otherworldly creatures, but they also are not arrogant smartasses with smugly superior attitudes like countless other onscreen teens. It’s long overdue that a film shows that there are still functional families out there, with parents who aren’t out of touch and kids who have a respectful and friendly relationship with them.
Director Josh Boone brings it all together beautifully, guiding audiences to see the beauty of life even at its worst moments and managing to keep a low tension throughout as the audience experiences the same disassociation as its lead characters, wondering and worrying if any given day shown could be their last as they press bravely forward. It’s a lesson we all can share.