'The Fault in Our Stars' Review: And a New Generation of Future Hopeless Romantics Has Found Its 'Say Anything'
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'The Fault in Our Stars' Review: And a New Generation of Future Hopeless Romantics Has Found Its 'Say Anything'

By Vivian Kane | Film Reviews | June 6, 2014 | Comments ()


There is a real joy that comes with the Young Adult genre. When we were younger, it was cathartic to see our stories played out, or the stories we wished we were living. It was liberating to have real credence given to the life-and-death stakes we always felt we were living at. As an adult, the best of the genre can bring us back to that place. They remind us what it was like to be overwhelmed by a feeling—joy, loss, love, lust, whatever—for the first time, and they let us wallow unashamed in that feeling. The Fault in Our Stars is one of these movies.

Based on the novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars is the story of sixteen year old Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), who has been living with cancer since she was but a tween. Since we are introduced to Hazel well into this stage of her life, her diagnosis (and lack of definite long-term prognosis) feels lived-in, an accepted part of her life. There is no Coming to Terms monologue or emotional explosion. Hazel may be repressed in her fears and feelings, but this coping mechanism is long-standing, and not going anywhere. Her life consists nearly entirely of reading her favorite book on a loop, watching reality TV, going to the doctor, and taking a mountain of prescription drugs, all while strapped to an oxygen tank. To please her parents (Laura Dern and that gorgeous shapeshifter Sam Trammell), she occasionally attends a hilariously unsupportive support group for teens with cancer, led by the over-enthusiastic, under-qualified Jesus-loving Mike Birbiglia. It’s there that she meets Augustus, who lost his leg and the potential basketball career he wasn’t so into anyway after battling “a touch of cancer” a few years back. Gus immediately falls for Hazel, staring with an intensity that crosses the line from charming to off-putting (but comes back around, fear not). Gus is a blaze of a manic pixie dream boy, living his life in metaphors and quirks.


Still, Gus is clever, supportive, crazy about Hazel and, oh yeah, insanely cute. He’s the perfect fit for a teen romance, and as the movie draws you in, so does Gus, stupid affected quirks and all. After they meet, there’s no need to spend much time describing the plot. It’s a story you know: They fall in love, she pulls away, they agree to be Just Friends (but not really), there’s a romantic trip to Europe, more love, and tragedy. But just because the story is familiar, doesn’t mean it’s tired. Right off the bat, in the opening voiceover narration, Hazel tells us this isn’t going to be as neat and happy as a John Hughes or Cameron Crowe movie. But it sure does feel like one. The cause for Hazel’s romantic reluctance may actually be life-or-death, while Diane Court’s just feels like it. But Stars still moves from that universal place of young love that feels far closer to Say Anything than to the existing genre of “sick flick.”

Like Say Anything or The Breakfast Club or even Rebel Without a Cause—any of the best teen movies— The Fault in Our Stars is really only about one thing, and somehow it manages not to be cancer. These movies are about the experience of being a teenager. There’s not a lot of action, and few hijinks. They just let you exist in that terrible/beautiful teen space. All the pain and the excitement of that time, how much it usually just really sucks. Hazel’s circumstances aren’t peripheral by any means, but they are secondary to the rest of her. If it were any other way, the film might be tempted to provide a “lesson” or some deeper “meaning.” Yes, at some (or many a) point you may find yourself wondering what percentage of your body’s water mass you’ve lost through your eye holes, and if it’s possible for this to cause you actual harm. But the movie never feels manipulative. The characters are so natural and understated that they transcend the subject matter. Even when the big feelingsy monologue finally comes, it comes from such an organic place that it will wash over you if you let it. And you should let it. Bring all the tissues you own and give yourself permission to wallow in that teenage pain for a few hours— it hurts so good.

Vivian Kane didn’t read the book first, and feels an unreasonable amount of shame for that.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Krissy

    I wont be seeing this one. I don't like being emotionally hijacked. Everyone keeps telling me its meaningful but I just cant get on the train to tear-town

  • KC

    I just saw it and cried like a little b**ch. I must say Shaileen Woodley was great in it. She was totally natural and not at all actressy. Just a girl, in love with a boy, dealing with some serious life issues. Beautiful.

  • E-Money

    Oh John Green

  • There is no way I'm watching this in public.

  • Sameer

    I hate to be that guy, but, I didn't really like the book. I think I attribute to the fact that I am a big fan of John Green and his youtube channel.So, that level of familiarity with the tone of the author kinda ruined the book for me. All the characters seemed to be some version of John Green. Especially Gus and Hazel. They literally felt like a singular person - John Green.

    A lot of their dialogue in the book also seemed unnatural and 'scripted' of sorts. It was like watching one of John's or his brother's funny and informative videos. I am no expert here, but I don't think that writing a good character equates to making them witty, dry and sarcastic,yet trying to make them universally lovable at the same time. It just doesn't work that way. Much of storytelling comes about putting distinct characters in a situation and witness the story write itself. I did not feel that in TFIOS. But, then again, I must be missing something, cause his books are very popular.

    I guess I'll give the movie a chance though. Maybe, they have done something different here.

  • greystokememphis

    "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

    Nobody ever gets the quote right.

  • fracas

    Yeah, but the full quote wouldn't really work as the title. Brutus isn't in this story.

    "Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus,
    And we petty men walk under his huge prosthetic legs,
    And peep about to find ourselves teenaged graves."

  • TacoBellRey

    Do you get to see the prosthetic leg? It's a weird question I know.

  • E-Money

    You sure do.

  • TacoBellRey

    Okay that's good. It's nice to see that kind of representation in films. I think that's why I liked "How to Train Your Dragon" so much.

  • JoeK

    Hey everybody what's going on in this thr...

    EDIT: Wow, screwed that up spectacularly. Off to drink.

  • Guest

    Hey everybody what's going on in this thr...

  • Malin

    I saw this at a pre-screening here in Oslo on Monday, with a friend who knew nothing about the book (because she doesn't read a lot of YA). I don't think I've been in a cinema with that many teenage girl since seeing one of the Twilight movies during opening week. During the second half of the film, the entire cinema was ugly crying. My friend and I cried our way through a pack of tissues each. I think she actually cried more than I did, because I was at least a bit prepared, and managed to brace myself during some parts. It was a wonderful adaptation. Better than I had ever hoped for. I want to re-read the book, but I'm honestly not sure I could take it right now.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i havent read the books, but i've kept up with pretty much everything John and his brother Hank have touched online for a few years, ever since I first saw Crash Course mentioned in a Lupe Fiasco tweet.

    I don't really have an interest in reading the book, but I owe it to him to watch the film, especially after watching his vlogs documenting the production, which are adorable.

    of course, i will be watching it at home (paid for, not stolen!) when it comes out, as if it is gonna give me the ugly cries, i'm good with it, but not around decent folk

  • wonkeythemonkey

    You had me at "Mike Birbiglia"

  • fracas

    Yeah, I had no idea he was in this. The movie marketers dropped the ball on that one. This is a book movie, rally the nerds.

  • This is one of my favorite books from the past year, but I've decided to wait and see it in the privacy of my own living room. I mean, it's not like I can be spoilered, nor is it a movie that absolutely screams out for a big screen, so I'll be patient and wait so I can ugly cry in the privacy of my house for as long as I want.

  • Melina

    John Green is a god, only in the fact that I can get my reluctant readers to read his books. As an adult, I enjoyed the book. I cried, but I also got annoyed by some of the affects and the tweeness of some of it. The annoyance wasn't enough not for me to be won over...mostly because I cried when one of my students (3rd grade reading level) volunteered to read, and she did a damn good job. I'm sure I'll see the movie, the book was torturous (to my feelings) but satisfying.

  • narfna

    Oh, god, you guys. I don't think I can do it. But I want to. BUT I CAN'T. The book DESTROYED ME.

    And for the record, this:

    "But the movie never feels manipulative. The characters are so natural and understated that they transcend the subject matter. Even when the big feelingsy monologue finally comes, it comes from such an organic place that it will wash over you if you let it. And you should let it."

    is what I was most worried about. And anytime somebody accuses it of being manipulative without having seen it, I get super weird and defensive.

    And yet I am seriously considering not going because I know what it's going to do to me. In public.

    What is my brain.

  • It was bad enough in the privacy of the bedroom where my "ugly cry" was enough to rouse my husband from a deep slumber. It's not about the shame of strangers in a dark room judging my desperate sobs, it's that it was so heartbreaking first time, I don't believe I have the emotional fortitude to face it again.

  • baxlala

    Ooh, I totally get that...at one point I wondered, "why am I doing this to myself again?"

  • baxlala

    I went with a friend and the entire theater, like EVERYONE, was crying, some audibly. It was a judgement-free zone, I think because most people seeing it knew what was coming and knew how much it would hurt.

  • vivkane

    Seriously, the soundtrack of that movie was the sobs of teenage girls. (Which I of course couldn't hear over the sound of my own.)

  • Malin

    Don't worry, the majority of people who watch it won't be concerned about you, they'll be too busy sobbing heavily themselves. The line to the ladies' bathroom after we saw the film was massive, and most just wanted to wash the tears and mascara streak off their faces. This is a film where it's totally fine to completely lose your cool. I'm not sure I would want to be friends with anyone who didn't completely dissolve when they see it.

  • My son took a friend to see a special screening of this last night (they are both 13) and they came out all excited with posters and special bracelets. I kinda think it was a first date, but I don't dare say that to him as he would deny it.

    I have read the book and I will probably catch the movie someday when I don't have to pay for it. But all I know is it got the 13 year old's stamp of approval.

  • AvaLehra

    I am getting a lump in my throat just reading the review... I will go alone and be a weepy mess and not care.

  • bimboden

    So you're saying I *should* go to the screening at lunch?

  • Nikki

    Are you on the lot? I really want to see this movie, but I'm not into crying in front of coworkers. The shaaaaaaaame!

  • bimboden

    hahah I'm in the Plaza, but was still gonna see the movie until *work* got in the way... the nerve! (I saw The Descendants on the lot with co-workers which entirely blew my cover as a badass since I bawled like a screaming baby goat. It was then that I realized I have no shame.)

  • baxlala

    I'm going to see this in a couple of hours. I'm so afraid. So very afraid. (And also asking myself how many tissues is too many tissues.)

  • vivkane

    However many tissues you currently own is definitely not enough tissues.

  • baxlala

    Shit. Has John Green considered the tissue shortage he's creating? It's really irresponsible.

  • fracas

    Or the trees? Think of the trees!

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