The Fault In Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
126 mins; Class 12; KRS Releasing Ltd

“We have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories,” says Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) at the beginning of The Fault in our Stars. “On the one hand, you can sugar-coat it; nothing is too messed up that can’t be fixed with a Peter Gabriel song…”

Hazel acknowledges that this is not real life. “It’s not the truth,” she continues. And it is certainly not her truth, as the 16-year-old valiantly fights the thyroid cancer that has afflicted her from a young age.

Egged on by her parents who feel she needs to make new friends, Hazel attends a cancer support group, the oxygen tank and pipes that help her breathe in tow. She can’t help but roll her eyes at the platitudes that the group leader spouts – armed with, of all things, a gigantic Jesus tapestry – and she can’t wait to get back to the refuge of her bedroom.

However, the meetings become more bearable with the presence of Gus Waters (Ansel Elgort). The two are immediately smitten with one another, sharing an acerbic sense of humour and bonding also over their similar unsentimental approach to their illnesses – Gus is recovering from bone cancer which cost him a leg. Literally.

Acknowledging Hazel’s passion for the novel An Imperial Affliction – about a young cancer sufferer with whom she identifies profoundly – Gus makes arrangements for the couple to travel to Amsterdam to meet the novel’s reclusive author Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe). In the meantime, the affection between the two grows even stronger, both ever aware that their time together may be limited.

Tender, funny and ultimately heart-breaking performances

Admittedly, despite Hazel’s opening lines, the film does at times fall into the cancer movie/teen love story clichés that Hazel herself is eschewing. If I lost you with the words ‘cancer movie’ (or, for that matter, ‘teen love story’) please come back. For The Fault in our Stars is a movie that for the most part stays away from exploitative sentimentality and the love story at its core is driven by two so tender, funny and ultimately heart-breaking performances from its young stars, that even the most hardened cynic will come away with something. Also, a couple who spend time watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are clearly people worth spending your time with.

Woodley is fast becoming one of the most watchable actresses of her generation. Like her contemporary Jennifer Lawrence, she imbues each performance with such natural charisma and authenticity that it is impossible to dislike her.

The nose pipe Hazel is forced to wear throughout the film doesn’t distract from Woodley’s performance, but she wears it with pride. Her emotions are unaffected, and she communicates loads with her expressions. She delivers her lines with droll wit and when she is sad, our hearts break with hers. She exudes wisdom that belies her years as she tries to keep Gus’s affections at arms’ length.

He, of course, will have none of it. In Elgort’s performance, Gus is a funny, charming and romantic young man who believes in the grand gesture and wants to make the most of the time they have together. The duo, who played brother and sister in the recent Divergent, share some bubbly and at the same time tender chemistry and it is a delight to see their relationship blossom (although a scene where they kiss passionately in Anne Frank’s attic is rather inappropriate).

Laura Dern is excellent as Hazel’s mother desperately trying to keep her emotions in check; and Nat Wolff scores many sympathy points as Isaac, a friend of Gus’s who at one point takes sweet revenge on someone who has treated him appallingly.

If the story wavers a little, it is in the scenes featuring Van Houten – it starts of promisingly enough as the couple’s first encounter with him doesn’t quite go as planned, yet the way this pans out is a little predictable. Dafoe is, as expected, solid in the role, but I felt the storyline on the whole could have been a little tighter. That’s a minor fault however, in a script whose stars make it all worthwhile.

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