August 27, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

Josh Boone, 2014

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a cynical teenage girl who has struggled with cancer for most of her young life. But her perspective changes when she meets rebel boy and fellow cancer survivor Gus (Ansel Elgort) who stirs everything up in her life.

Boone's adaptation of John Green's tweener novel is a bold one, challenging the cancer genre by examining the nuances that come with the illness in a relationship/family dynamic instead of just showing two young kids withering away from the disease. We have all seen someone struggle and perish from some form of cancer, but typically not someone sub-30 years old. There is something particularly unfair and difficult to handle about watching someone that young suffer. But this film doesn't just drown itself in melodrama. It doesn't shout "why me? why me?" at the universe. It features characters who have a more off the cuff, unrestrained voice. After all, they've been living with it for so long. But like any other teen they fall victim to their hearts, the most unfortunate aspect of it being that they cant get lost in the "We are going to be together forever and ever" delusion. They realize that there is an early expiration date. Woodley is the perfect fit for the Hazel character. She brings the same vulnerability and sensitivity that she brought in last year's The Spectacular Now. She is certainly one of the best gifts to the world of cinema in the last few years. Hazel doesn't simply play the victim, although it's certainly warranted. She's been kicked in the gut for basically her entire young life. Forced to lug around an oxygen tank to assist her in something we all take for granted, BREATHING - she has long faced the reality that her days are likely numbered and she won't outlive her devoted parents. Her parents, played by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell, really help to show the perspective of the parents who have also been screwed by the universe with their ill daughter. They've basically dedicated all of their adult lives to taking care of her. But once again, the film challenges that dynamic as well. Hazel is frustrated by her parents efforts. She wants them to have a life together, even if she may not be in it with them. They've lost a lot of sleep over the years. They've been at the breaking point more than once. It raises the notion that while the physical cancer is inside of Hazel's body, it really does spread into many of the peripheral lives. The film is probably considered Ansel Elgort's coming out party. At first glance his Gus character is conflicting because of the irritating cockiness that he exudes. There's also that unrealistic unlit cigarette thing. But you're stuck with him for a while, and there is a turning point in the film where his character really comes around and Elgort displays some true talent. The scene where Gus wants to experience his funeral as a living person and hear the eulogies is so unique and beautifully dark, certainly one of those moments likely to stick with you.

The Fault is not a positive piece to put on with hopes of having some smiles and good laugh. It asks a lot of questions and fails to have much of a filter asking them. It's painful and raw, genuine. But not every film is supposed to be a feel-good story. You (should) go to a film to examine the full spectrum of the human experience, and this is certainly on one end of it. 

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