Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the book by John Green
Directed by Josh Boone
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff and more
Certain movies are well-oiled machines, designed to make audiences do one specific tasks. Sometimes it’s laughing. Other times it's crying. All too often, it's buying tie-in merchandise of questionable value.
"The Fault in Our Stars," the adaptation of the smash bestseller by John Green, is definitely a machine designed for tears. The movie is well-constructed all around, with a faithful, well-written script, solid direction and charming actors, and every single second is designed to eventually turn you into a sobbing mess. Think of it as "Love Story" for the new generation (kids, feel free to Google the name. We'll wait.)
For those who haven't read the story, "Fault" follows the love story of two kids battling terminal cancer. That sentence tells you everything you need to know about both the novel and the film, though both do get credit for being slightly funnier and more acerbic than your average cancer story. Still, it makes certain to push every button, from young love ended too soon to grieving parents to aborted dreams. There will be hospital bed shots, heartbreaking final words, and enough tears to water every tulip in Denmark.
It's also sweet, funny, low-key love story, sprinkled with some tender family moments and flashes of psychological insight. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are both adorable without being cloying, and it's a pleasure to watch the chemistry between them warm the screen. Their sickness provides more than enough drama for the movie, which leaves their love story mercifully almost free of it.
Though Elgort's parents are barely heard from, Woodley's do get some key scenes. Sam Trammell and Laura Dern make the most out of the few minutes they have onscreen, beautifully communicating their worry, grief, and determination to make their daughter's life as normal as possible.
Together, they hit all of the emotional beats necessary for moments like this. Willem Dafoe steps in for a few moments as a convenient villain, while his saintly assistant helps our young couple have not one but two magical moments. Woodley tests her bravery more than once, as does Elgort, and they both prove they can be there for each other in times of trouble and medical difficulties. It's not as nuanced as a romance that has time to develop naturally, but it has its own radiance.
The endgame, however, is always tears. Even the light, tender moments are working toward that end, colored with the inevitable knowledge that death and heartbreak will be at the end of all of it. The movie's not ashamed to push every button – it seems to hew quite closely to the book, and the production has Green's full approval – so I assume the novel was the same way.
Of course, not every button will be successful. The parents' grief, and Woodley's worry about them, was a more effective tearjerker for me than most of the romantic tragedies, and for the majority of the movie I was impressed but dry-eyed. We all cry for slightly different reasons, just like we all laugh for slightly different reasons. Even the most well-made machine can only do so much.