"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.
I’m always partial to a book or film which has a literary allusion in the title, and I have to confess it was the title that drew me to ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. I should also own up about not having read the best-selling novel by John Green on which the film is based. So I really didn’t know what to expect when I lined up at the cinema yesterday to buy tickets to ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.
It was the longest queue I’ve seen at our local picture theatre for quite some time. There were dozens of adolescent girls sporting long ponytails and fur-trimmed anoraks, purchasing buckets of popcorn. In retrospect, I realise the absence of grown-ups wasn’t surprising, considering the film is aimed at the lucrative ‘young adult’ market.
'The Fault in Our Stars' starts promisingly enough with a disclaimer by the lead character, seventeen-year-old cancer victim, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), that her story will be neither stereotypical nor soppy. And for the first third of this very long film (125 minutes), that’s exactly the case, thanks largely to Woodley’s understated yet riveting performance. Even when Hazel meets the amiable Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a cancer support group, the story doesn’t turn to schmaltz. Gus has faced his own battle with cancer - osteosarcoma – and has lost his lower leg as a result. Although Elgort plays the part charmingly, he tends to get by on an engaging smile and never quite gives us the substance we’d like to see from him.
There are many things to like about this film – the cute text messages, the way Hazel and Augustus adopt the word 'okay’ to mean so many things, the discussion about pain, both physical and emotional, and the fact that it has to be felt.
But there are negatives as well. During the scenes set in Amsterdam, the story declines into a soap opera cum travelogue. Hazel goes there, wanting to meet the author of a novel she’s come to see as her bible - 'The Imperial Affliction' about a young girl with cancer. But the author turns out to be a cantankerous Willem Dafoe, who still seems to be over-acting following his stint as the villain in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (where a mannered, over-the-top performance was indeed appropriate, but not here). Even though the subsequent visit to the Anne Frank House is obviously intended to give an extra layer of meaning to the story, the special location actually makes the scene look superficial by comparison.
Back in Indianapolis, the story picks up for a while but takes far too long to resolve itself. Like everyone else in the cinema, I was dabbing at my eyes through the last half hour or so. At the same time I was berating myself for being manipulated by such a blatant tearjerker. Having said that, if I’d been a teenager viewing 'The Fault in Our Stars', I would have loved it. Perhaps I’ve just become a cranky old cynic.
June 23, 2014