Trust me: when it opens Friday 'The Fault in Our Stars' will be review proof. It matters not a whit what any of us have to say about Josh Boone's four-hankie tragic romance based on social media star John Green's bestselling Young Adult novel. Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber of "(500) Days of Summer" fame faithfully adapted the book, but this is a case where I wanted to see the authentic indie version of the film.
This is a manipulatively fake studio movie all the way, anchored and saved by star Shailene Woodley's inability to be inauthentic. She is the real thing as Hazel, an 18-year-old thyroid cancer patient with weak lungs coping with being permanently ill--with breathlessness and death hovering around the corner. She is genuine and moving. In fact she is so strong that the Oscar nomination that eluded her for "The Descendants" may be in the offing--unless critics dump all over the movie.
The rest of the cast-- including young discovery Ansel Elgort as a fellow cancer sufferer who is the object of her affections-- is not so convincing. Laura Dern can survive anything, as does Willem Dafoe as a jaded writer the young lovers admire, who brings a welcome dose of nastiness to this otherwise cloying drama.
Early trade reviews follow:
Variety's Andrew Barker calls the film a career best for Woodley:
[The Fault in Our Stars] 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. Soulfully acted, especially by a never-better Shailene Woodley, and several degrees smarter than most films aimed at teenagers, this Fox melodrama ought to strike a resonant chord with young audiences.
Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter highlighted the strength of the film's source material:
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.
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson wrote that he's "worried for our teens":
Are Augustus and Hazel the cutest couple in the whole wide world? For the time being, they sure are. Does the movie elicit blubbery tears in a way that’s both sloppily big-hearted and almost cruelly precise? Yep, it most certainly does. So much so that I am genuinely nervous about what is going to happen in movie theaters across the nation come Friday. Maybe not since Titanic has a movie threatened to so thoroughly burrow itself into young hearts only to beautifully break them by the end credits. (Or, really, about a half an hour before the end credits.) Look out for a mighty deluge of teen tears flooding multiplexes this weekend, which will be well-earned by this clever, attractive, sad little movie.