'Fault in Our Stars' casts light on tragic love

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JUNE 05, 2014

It is difficult to emotionally connect with a film without first checking one’s brain at the door. Tear-jerkers are a peculiar pleasure, one that gets us in touch with the sublime emotions of grief and pain for a suspended and limited amount of time, in an enclosed area where we are safe and the repercussions do not last. Still, this emotional calisthenic often starts with a run of hurdles. Hurdle faith, hurdle a cosmology that is alien or laughable, hurdle expectations about love or life that only make sense to the very young or the very foolish. “The Fault in Our Stars” succeeds as a tear-jerker for the thinking audience because it is hurdle-free. Like the novel on which it is based, it requires no belief in an afterlife or a plan of any kind to find beauty in two short lives, tragic love and unjust death.

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster are just two pretty white teenagers in love. It’s the same story you’ve seen a million times, but it isn’t their parents or the rules that keep Romeo from Juliet; it is cancer. With both of them suffering from terminal, aggressive disease, their love is so urgent and so free of promises that it steers clear of cliche and wades directly into pathos. The ICU is a long way from the balcony, and the supporting characters are drunks, parents who must grieve their living offspring and a dopey kid who loses both eyes. It ends exactly the way it must end — the way all things must end. Miracles are not on the menu.

Shailene Woodley plays Hazel sensitively, with the fearlessness that often comes with living so close to death for so long. Ansel Elgort is so charming as Augustus that he’s almost insincere in his role as the lover. True Blood’s Sam Trammell appears distractingly but competently as the father of the dying girl, opposite a brilliantly emotive Laura Dern, who is quite possibly one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. The script is beautiful, most of it ripped straight out of John Green’s novel of the same name. Those who read the book will not be disappointed; they will be rewarded with lush visuals of Amsterdam and a tastefully triste soundtrack.

A typical failure of movies about people who are dying is that they stay beautiful, because actors are beautiful people and generally averse to plucking out their eyelashes for a role. This is glaringly obvious in “The Fault in Our Stars,” as Hazel gasps for breath through a mystic tan in the shade of Kardashian-lite and Augustus wastes away without ever losing his varsity abs. Makeup was an utter failure throughout, focusing on Woodley’s witchy beauty and not on the story of a girl too winded to walk up the stairs. The strength of the script helps one to forget, but with some work. Believers are mocked, but very gently. A support-group leader is made into a Jesus-freak-type caricature, but he’s as vulnerable as everyone else.

The point in seeing a movie like “The Fault in Our Stars” is to complete that emotional circuit, to fall in love with some innocent people and watch fate grind their dreams into dust so that we may mourn them. This film provides a good strong run without any theological strings attached. The scene that breaks out all the boxes of tissue is one of eulogies — but no one has any illusions about meeting up again on the other side. The moments that yank the heartstrings in this film remind us that the fault is not in these movie stars but in us for needing this experience. We need faux-grief to either ignore our own or to learn how to cope with it with the training wheels on.

Contact Meg Elison at  or on Twitter


JUNE 05, 2014

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