Based on the bestselling novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars has been one of the most eagerly-awaited films worldwide for 2014 so far. The film tells the unconventional love story between Hazel and Augustus, who meet at a cancer-support group. Unfortunately, as a fan of the book, I was disenchanted and deflated after watching a film that was characterised by inappropriate amusements, awkward narrating, unnecessary Hollywood romanticisation and an abundance of cliché.
The film began with Hazel’s (Shailene Woodley) somewhat uncomfortable narration that didn’t quite approach the topic of cancer with the same skilful tone as Green achieved in the novel. The narration came across as forced, disjointed and something that seemed constructed by a ‘cool mom’ that wants to approach the teen audience in an understanding way to stay ‘trendy’. Throughout this floundering narration, the narrative was gracelessly constructed in a direct-address through Hazel telling the audience “then this happened” to marry scenes together. This self-awareness was clumsily placed in the film set against the consuming authenticity that the shadow of classic Hollywood was trying to uphold. These juxtapositions made The Fault in Our Stars both confusing and uneven.
It wasn’t just the narration that created a distressing effect, it was also the film’s constant stereotyping, particularly with regard to the cancer-support group leader. He was represented in a slightly delirious and ludicrous manner, stressing his Christian beliefs and using this as a source of entertainment. If it wasn’t the laying of a Jesus mat, it was the constant whipping out of his guitar in order to play a motivating song. The Fault in Our Stars took the crazy support group leader caricature that we see in every other film and regurgitated it on a messy drama-comedy hybrid.
I tried to understand the angle to which the film was trying to approach the topic of cancer, but the humour was extended to such a level that it poked fun at almost everything, from blindness to heartbreak (not to mention the gawky Anne Frank House scene that just didn’t effectively translate to the screen). For some unbeknown reason, Hazel’s support group friend Isaac was used as some kind of outlet for this, whether it be the snide comments about his new blindness or the melodramatic aspects to the break down of his relationship. By using secondary characters tactically for laughs, The Fault in Our Stars directly placed into question exactly what it was trying to pursue. What the audience was told to laugh at in some instances, the audience was expected to cry at in others.
Hazel and Gus’ relationship, though presented with rawness and honesty in the book, here subscribed to a sentimental, romantic and very Hollywood worldview. The desperate iconising of their flirtatious and repeating use of ‘Okay? Okay’ felt ill-judged and saturated the film. The quotation was used in any way possible, and whilst it was cringe-worthy in itself, it was lugubrious to see a film so fiercely desire to become iconic at the sacrifice of an authentic screenplay.
Shailene Woodley was the best thing about the film. Her performance was exquisite and she did well with what she was provided with. With regard to Ansel Elgort, his performance was masked by the script’s slightly annoying interpretation of Gus. The enigmatic, likable boy was left on the pages of The Fault in Our Stars, and what was reflected on screen was a patronising and supercilious character that constantly placed a cigarette in their mouth because it was a “metaphor”; effective and smart in its original form but aggravatingly repetitive in the film.
Ultimately, The Fault in Our Stars tried so hard to be a success that it ended up far from it. The performances were pleasing, but the film spent so much time trying to be epochal, assembling laughs and cries and reflecting the unique connection Green seems to have with his teen audience that it ended up being the cliché that it so desperately wanted to avoid. Okay? Not okay.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014), directed by Josh Boone, is distributed in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below:
This review is published in association with The National Student.