Perhaps the most anticipated film of the year for teenagers who spend a lot of time on Tumblr was The Fault in Our Stars, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by John Green. Over the summer, I heard tell of theater screenings that left no eye in the house dry. So when the title popped up in my local Redbox kiosk, I was curious enough to give it a shot. And while it’s quite manipulative and predictable, I can’t say I hated it.
The film follows Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a teenage cancer patient who enjoys pretentious literature and René Magritte references. At a cancer support group, she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), who lost his leg from the disease but didn’t lose his witty sense of humor. The two immediately fall for each other, and experience love while fighting off death.
First off, I would like to say I have never read the novel (I have read Green’s Looking for Alaska and found it a pretty solid YA work), so I will just be looking at The Fault in Our Stars as its own entity. It’s probably better this way; “the book is way better” is perhaps the most overused, unhelpful phrase in film criticism. Now, on to the film.
If you were to make a list of film scenarios that would naturally lead to the greatest number of audience members balling their eyes out, a love story between two teenagers with terminal cancer would be up there with dying dogs and cathartic kisses in the rain. I think some of the greatest films are films that make you feel something; it’s truly magical that watching two hours of moving images following fictional characters can bring out such real emotion. That being said, I do think the experience is cheapened a little bit when a film is created and calculated to bring out as many tears as possible. To me, the best tearjerkers are films that don’t feel like tearjerkers. But I can almost imagine John Green maniacally laughing at creating a premise that will cause countless teenagers literary misery.
As such, the film didn’t work for me as a tearjerker, but that’s not to say the film is without merit. The Fault in Our Stars has some undeniable charm coursing through its veins and does feature some well-crafted, likeable characters. It helps that the actors hired to give life to Green’s creations do an admirable job. The character of Hazel could have easily felt stilted and unrealistic in the wrong hands (for God’s sake, she uses the word “hamartia” in casual conversation), but Shailene Woodley does a good job at convincing you there could conceivably be a 16-year-old girl in the world who thinks deeper than most adults and doesn’t bother to post their “wisdom” on social media websites for attention. Co-star Ansel Elgort is definitely shown up by Woodley, but he’s quite likeable, as is most of the supporting cast.
In the end, the film put a smile on my face on multiple occasions, and while there are many groan-worthy moments (a first kiss at the Anne Frank House accompanied by the applause of strangers comes to mind), it hit more often than it missed and made for an easy, cute watch. Cut the supremely obvious and pandering pop music cues (it’s easy to make anything emotional with an M83 track behind it) and make the plot feel less calculated and more unpredictable, and The Fault in Our Stars could be a classic teen film. As it is, it’s just a likeable watch that apparently will almost definitely make you cry. It’s no Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it’s sweet.
Zach Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.