Shailene Woodley is one of the brightest young stars on the
movie scene, and her honest performance is reason enough to see The Fault in Our Stars. Fans of John
Green’s best-selling novel and devotees of tearjerkers will also want to see
the picture, but Woodley seals the deal. Like her character, she doesn’t
encourage feelings of pity or sloppy sentiment on the part of the viewer. Without
discounting the role of the director and writers, she seems incapable of
striking a false note.
Hazel Grace Lancaster has lived with mortality staring her in the face for most of her sixteen years. She wheels an oxygen tank alongside her wherever she goes. Her parents have made her well-being their number-one priority. A bright girl with a caustic wit, she has avoided support groups but finally caves into pressure and attends her first meeting at a local church. There she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), an unusually brash, confident boy who has lost a leg to cancer but hasn’t allowed it to darken his outlook—or personality. He pursues her—avidly—but she’s only interested in being friends, or so she thinks.
The Fault in Our Stars gets so much right that I’m reluctant to carp. I felt the movie dragging in the third act and I wasn’t crazy about all the casting. Laura Dern is warm and empathetic as Hazel’s mom, but sensitive-looking Sam Trammell (from True Blood) is bland as the father, with a frozen look of concern on his face. Nat Wolff also gives a one-note performance as Isaac, Gus’ friend and fellow cancer victim.
But, to its credit, the movie is never foolish or condescending toward its characters or its audience. Director Josh Boone and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber take its teenage protagonists seriously, and so do we.
Readers of the book will have their own opinions, I’m sure, but while I liked the film overall, what I take away more than anything is a growing admiration for its leading lady. Shailene Woodley’s performance will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten the particulars of The Fault in Our Stars.