It would be tempting to dismiss The Fault in Our Stars as yet another mawkish, manipulative dying-of-cancer flick – a particularly risible sub-genre awash with cliché ridden entries (with the noble exception of Richard Attenborough’s superb Shadowlands). However, whilst this temptation is strong at times, certain factors pull the film back from the brink of the disease-of-the-week TV movie abyss.
One such factor is Shailene Woodley, who contributes a very fine, sympathetic performance. Woodley has done sterling work in the past in films such as The Descendants, and here she continues to show great promise, even if she isn’t yet in the same league as, say, Jennifer Lawrence.
Woodley plays Hazel, a teenage terminal cancer patient who gradually strikes up a romantic relationship with recovering cancer patient Gus (Ansel Elgort). Yes, I know it sounds ghastly but it’s worth bearing with as the characters are offbeat and quirky in a good way, and therefore likeable.
Based on the bestselling “young adult” novel by John Green (which I haven’t read), The Fault in Our Stars most obvious precedent is Love Story, but this is to my mind a far more interesting film than that notorious saccharine fest. Director Josh Boone coaxes good performances from his leads, and from his supporting cast, which includes Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe in a small but important role. However, there are a couple of howling false notes. One schmaltzy, deeply crass, borderline offensive scene occurs during a trip to Holland in Anne Frank’s house, but I can’t get into that for fear of spoilers.
In spite of this, the film is to be commended for not ducking or fudging difficult issues, unlike some of the well-intended but ultimately useless Christians in the film. Ultimately this is a story that shows how teenage cancer patients want the same things other teenagers want, and quite understandably so. In the end, The Fault in Our Stars does just enough to keep things entertaining, with the right amount of humour to leaven the grimness and winning performances to help the audience overlook the more pointedly tear-jerking moments. If this is your cup of tea, you’ll love it.