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'The Fault in Our Stars' Reviews: All the Feels, and a Few Flaws

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 4, 2014 at 2:36PM

First reviews of Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in the adaptation of John Green's novel.
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Shailene Woodley and Nat Wolff in "The Fault in Our Stars"
Fox Shailene Woodley and Nat Wolff in "The Fault in Our Stars"

Scan the list of reviews for "The Fault in Our Stars" below and you'll see quite a few unfamiliar names, which leaves one to think either the first-string writers decided this critic-proof movie wasn't worth their time or the publications they work for decided to use them elsewhere. Regardless, they're a sharp-edged bunch, whether praising Shailene Woodley's leading performance or sussing out the difference between the reality of cancer and the movie's version of "the truth." Nearly all of them conclude the movie will reduce you to tears; some find other reasons for sorrow as well. As Stephanie Zacharek puts it in her great Village Voice review, "In the plumbing mechanics of melodrama, the Big C makes a perfectly useful faucet handle: Turn it and the tears come out, or at least they ought to. In life, it's cancer's job to try to kill you. In fiction, it's cancer's job to make you cry."

Reviews of "The Fault in Our Stars"

Nicholas Bell, Ion Cinema

Courting criticism within its opening moments when Hazel’s narration informs us matter-of-factly that "this isn't a movie," rather "the truth" that will fly in the face of the tearjerker cancer subgenre. Though it's a bit of grating hubris, for its pedigree, the film makes a concerted effort to live up to this prophecy, even though it gets away from itself.

Brent Simon, Screen Daily

There's a dollop of self-referentiality and an acerbic wit that belies the staid conventions of "cancer cinema" (in addition to some peer banter with Isaac, Hazel’s dad pops the balloon of his daughter's self-pity in one scene by joking that they’ve been thinking about dropping her off at an orphanage), but "The Fault in Our Stars" also locates deeper feelings via some pointed speechifying about the depth of love and remembrance by a few versus many, and a stirring sequence in which the three friends share eulogies.

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice

"The Fault in Our Stars" is a teenage fantasy, albeit one rooted in the not-so-sunny world of cancer. And there are certain aspects of this half-dreamy, half-earthbound romance that Boone -- who has made just one other feature, the 2012 dramatic comedy "Stuck in Love" -- gets just right.

David Lee Dallas, Slant

This isn't just "a movie," Hazel's voiceover intones over a close-up of Woodley's wonderfully expressive eyes, but a document of authentic lived experience that dares to stare terminal cancer baldly in the face rather than hide behind euphemisms and syrupy montages. A noble mission, to be sure, and one that shows the filmmakers have the right instincts about how to tell this story, but ultimately "The Fault in Our Stars" doesn't live up to these claims, as it takes few chances, frequently using sass as a smokescreen, hiding what's unoriginal and cheaply sentimental about this story behind a veil of witticisms about oblivion and "cancer perks."

Tim Grierson, Deadspin

Nobody in "The Fault in Our Stars" is as cut-and-dried as the stereotypical young-folks-in-love movie. But whether it's the story or the characters, the film keeps undercutting its desire to be genuine by indulging in a preciousness that overwhelms the very real feelings the material generates. This is one of those movies that will make you cry, but also make you very angry at the same time; it keeps stacking the deck in such a way that you feel jerked around even when it wrings tears.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

It straddles the line between earnest weepie and a savvy deconstruction of one, partly because everyone involved seems to resist its inevitable direction.

Diane Garrett, the Wrap

Wearing its sorrow on its sleeve, the movie opens with a voiceover about sad stories. Promising not to sugarcoat the truth, "The Fault in Our Stars" sprinkles fairy dust over it instead. The movie is glossy Hollywood sad -- cathartic without being too much of a bummer. 

Andrew Barker, Variety

Cancer provides the butt of the film's most caustic jokes, provides the magnetic pull that first draws its star-crossed couple together, and provides the power with which the story eventually starts to squeeze its viewers' tear ducts like water balloons in a pressure cooker. As such, it walks a knife's edge between heart-on-sleeve sensitivity and crass exploitation for its entire running time, and the fact that it largely stays on the right side of that divide has to mark it as a success.

Justin Lowe, Hollywood Reporter

The greatest strengths of the film clearly come from Green's novel, which resolutely refuses to become a cliched cancer drama, creating instead two vibrant, believable young characters filled with humor and intelligence, both facing complex questions and issues unimaginable even to people twice their age. Turning the screenwriting over to adaptation experts Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber has preserved the distinctly literate tone of the book, even if they do occasionally deliver scenes that feel overwrought.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Someone's gotta die in this kind of three-hanky thing, and while it’s almost immediately apparent who it's going to be (even if you haven't read the book, which, yes, I have), TFIOS rather remarkably doesn't feel programmatic or tediously inevitable. The movie is, instead, funny and touching and brimming with youthful life, filled with a brightness and a piquancy that’s well channeled through Woodley and guided smartly by Boone.

Kimber Myers, the Playlist

"The Fault in Our Stars" wins points for being more complex and stylish than most similar films feel they need to be. Most movies with this target audience are maudlin and manipulative, but Boone's film never feels like it's trying too hard to win our tears -- or our laughter. It's an above-average entry into the genre, broadening its appeal beyond just teenagers, fans of the original novel and those who love a good cry. 

Kate Erbland, Film.com

Sticking to the choppy emotional structure of the relentlessly popular YA novel proves to be the production’s wisest decision. Despite some early missteps in performance and the cutting of an essential subplot, the charming and touching film has plenty to recommend it, and fans of the novel and newbies alike will likely find themselves moved (and dabbing their eyes) more times than they can count.

Matt Prigge, Metro

"Pain demands to be felt," goes an underlined aphorism in Hazel's favorite book, and to its credit the film never forgets that, even as it feels plenty of other, as they say, feels. It's still a rocky road. This is a film whose second half is a near-uninterrupted string of montages -- a big letdown given the personable tone director Josh Boone brings to the first.

Bill Goodykoontz, the Republic

If you don't cry or snort or at least tear up a little at some point during Josh Boone's film version of the popular young-adult novel by John Green, you're a pretty cold fish. It's not because the writing is subtle or the direction nuanced, though. It's because Shailene Woodley is so good as the dying girl who hadn't planned on falling in love. She makes something more, something better out of a movie that would have appealed mostly to teenage girls arriving with tissue in hand.


This article is related to: Shailene Woodley


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