The Fault In Our Stars (2014) Review:
Romance is a tricky thing to portray in cinema. Simply because, everyone has their own idea of love, relationships, and intimacy. Just recently it was revealed to me that most of my colleagues are of the opinion that one should not enter into a relationship without the intention of marriage. This was insane to me. Can you imagine the amount of build up one would have to do to ensure that the person they’re pursuing is at least tolerable?
Marriage is, theoretically, a lifelong commitment. To peg someone down as worthy of such a commitment is almost impossible. Mainly because it’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on a person, whether they know they’re being tested or not. For me, a relationship shouldn’t be a litmus test for holy matrimony. Instead, it should be an exploration of another person. Getting to know their story and the idiosyncrasies that make them, them. In turn, you start to find yourself feeling more and more attached to this person. They’re the first ones you think of in the morning and the last at night. You make every day about them. Pinning some grand expectation on a person only sullies the time you have with them.
Of course, there are those that view romantic love as a complete lie. A fabrication by the manufacturers of greeting cards and heart-shaped chocolates. It’s from these people that the greatest critiques of romantic movies come from. Complaints that the romantic film has unrealistic portrayals of human interaction and creates an expectation that only exists in stories. While these complaints might have been valid at a time, recently the romance movie has veered towards those who aren’t necessarily looking for something as grand as a happily ever after. Mostly, the stories that are told these days try to take two people, develop them as much as they can and try to mesh them together in their idea of a relationship.
The two most notable examples I can think of are ‘Her’, and ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. Both took two people with their own histories, thoughts, and complete characters and found a way to make them love one another. Neither were considered movies of a conventional romance, however. They both were nominated for best picture in the year they came out. This just goes to show how perfect a romance movie can be. It’s instantly relatable to anyone who’s had feelings from someone else and it’s an excuse to make a movie that’s a complete character study of two individuals. Combine that with the opportunity to explore how society views certain sexual orientations and gender roles and romance movies have serious potential to be excellent.
‘The Fault in Our Stars’ represents a different school of thought when it comes to love, the teen/young adult. These are the types that think they know more about love than their parents, teachers or anyone old enough to have seen the original M*A*S*H. This group has been represented before but the ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ adds an interesting hook to its premise that serves to distinguish it from the others of it’s kind. The main character in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is dying and has been for years. From the very first moment you see her lying in the grass with oxygen tubes in her nose, you’re immediately plunged into sympathy for the character. Initially, it feels as though the movie is unfairly tipping the scales in the main character’s favour, not allowing you to feel objective about her plight. In truth, however, the movie doesn’t actually ask for your sympathy but instead presents the main character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by ‘Shailene Woodley’ in a way which doesn’t take away from her characterization. You’re not constantly thinking about her current health situation, instead, you’re thinking about her emotional situation.
Really, it’s emotion that’s the main draw in any romantic movie. That feeling one gets when they can relate to a character’s nervous demeanor and desire to climb the nearest mountain and let the world know of their love. Hazel Grace is a character who tries to ignore her feelings. The fact that she hasn’t much time left on this earth is reason enough for her to write off romance altogether. As she reluctantly goes to her cancer support group, however, she stumbles into her male counterpart, cancer survivor, Augustus Waters.
Here’s all I have to say about Augustus Waters. He’s one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. Everything about this guy screams pretension and arrogance. Having lost his leg due to his disease, you’re expected to see his world view as enlightened but all it comes off as is tedious. Every time he opened his mouth I got a nice quick view of the ceiling. Here’s an example; Augustus Waters is a man who stands outside of a cancer support group and holds a cigarette to his mouth. When Hazel naturally calls him out on this, he explains that he doesn’t ever light it. He holds the thing which could kill him to his lips but he never gives it the power to do it. It’s not so much that that isn’t clever, it’s just the smug look he gets on his face when he explains it to someone makes you want to knock that cigarette (and a molar or two) right out of his mouth.
As insufferable as the leading man might be, it’s not as bad as the way the story develops in this movie. As I mentioned before, Hazel is a closed off individual. The movie is predicated on her changing her mindset and realizing that life is worth living even if you have to lug around an oxygen tank. The problem is, not only is her development unbelievable, but it’s done in the laziest way to convey information. Open narration. I understand that the main character’s insight is the crux of the film, but there are better ways to convey that than actually having her tell me what that insight is. In that case, I just feel like her therapist. While the narration only exists at the beginning and the end, it’s only so frustrating simply because it’s so easy to see how this information could’ve been conveyed better.
A big issue in the movie is Hazel’s relationship with her parents. I like the scenes she has with them. Her mother is irritatingly over positive, you get the sense that this is a technique she’s been advised to use by an experienced counselor of sorts. It’s clear that this causes tension with Hazel who would rather her mother approach the situation realistically. Compare this to the way we find out that Hazel only goes to her support group to appease her parents which is Hazel’s voiceover saying “I only do this for my parents”. It’s not something that would be impossible to convey otherwise, and it’s something that we might’ve picked up on ourselves.
If it weren’t for all this excessive information, Hazel might’ve been a fascinating character. A young adult who has been forced to accept the harsh realities of life simply because hers was cut short. But the movie never seems to believe in its character enough to let her stand on her own. Aside from her own development, the movie follows the romance that spurs between Augustus and Hazel. Over time their relationship grows and she stops thinking of him as obnoxious and instead sees him as charming. (She’s wrong).
They find themselves on a trip to Amsterdam where Hazel will be able to confront the author of her favourite book, and finally get the answers she desires. The author, played by Willem Dafoe is hysterical. He’s exactly what I imagined when I heard “Recluse author who’s gone off to live in Amsterdam”. His house is a mess, his glasses are huge, everyone is an idiot (especially people who read his book), he’s a terrible alcoholic and he finds cultures he doesn’t completely understand enlightening. The confrontation between Hazel, Augustus and the author is the very best part of the film. It perfectly encapsulates everything the movie is trying to say about life, and how your outlook on it determines it’s worth to you. It’s astounding that the very next scene is the absolute worst in the movie.
Every romance movie has that scene where the two lovers finally share the first kiss. It’s the signal that things have gone beyond flirtations, holding hands and will they/won’t they tension. Some movies make a big deal out of it, others get it over with and move on to more pressing matters. ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ makes a huge deal out of it. After the meeting with Norman Osborn, Hazel and Augustus journey over to the Anne Frank house as part of her day. Hazel is determined to climb the stairs herself with no assistance with her heavy oxygen tank, despite protest from Augustus. It is a very well put together scene that finally lets the character show you what it is she’s going through. When they finally reach the top, she finds inspiration with the words of Anne Frank (There’s a brief insinuation that the film is comparing the impending doom of cancer to the impending doom of Nazi death) and realizes that she should let caution to the wind with her last days. She turns to Augustus, who momentarily ceases with the stupid, and plants a big enlightened kiss on him. The setting alone is unsettling but worse than that is the reaction from the other tourists. After being witness to the momentous first kiss, with whom they have had no interaction with and should not at all be invested in their romance, start a slow clap that erupts into rousing applause. No one thinks this is weird, and in fact, it’s treated as if something that could happen every day. Maybe that was it. The Anne Frank house just has auditions each month for people to come in and clap whenever a young couple decides to kiss.
Although it may seem like I didn’t care for this movie, it really wasn’t terrible. No one in the film gives a bad performance, and you do buy into the romance between the two characters. Hazel’s predicament isn’t manipulative and doesn’t detract from how good of a character she is. Augustus never stops being a tool but I suppose for the most part he’s a useful one. You can definitely see how someone could, in theory, find him to be charming but he’s certainly doesn’t walk on water like the movie suggests. Since the characters are so different, with her being so down to earth and him with his head in the clouds, the attraction is clear and they play off each other rather nicely. I just wish the movie had a better way of moving the development along without feeling the need to over explain it’s message. Not just through the narration but through dialogue that spells everything out to you and ends up being largely pedestrian.
Rating: Catch It On Cable