The Fault in Our Stars is a coming-of-age movie based on the fifth novel with the same name by John Green. The movie centres on the relationship between two teenagers that meet at a cancer support group for teens and their journey to meeting their favourite author.

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Owing to thyroid cancer and its treatment, Hazel Grace Lancaster’s (played beautifully by Shailene Woodley) lungs are damaged and she is left dependent on oxygen. This 16 year old has to carry an oxygen canister at all times which, not surprisingly, has made her cynical and just a tad macabre (and is also a visual reminder of her burden). Her favourite book ‘An Imperial Affliction’ ends as the protagonist, a young cancer sufferer, dies mid-sentence. Hazel obsesses about what happens to the remaining living characters after the book ends and this sets the plot for the movie. Hazel’s mom (Laura Dern) and doctor are concerned about her mental health and she attends the support group to placate them.

A Fault In Our Stars

Here she meets up-beat, “I am going to be somebody” Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). Augustus is then introduced to Hazel’s obsession and is also deeply affected by it. They both then set out to make contact with the reclusive author, Peter van Houten (played by the ever brilliant Willem Dafoe, just don’t expect much screen time from him). Up to now Hazel has not heard from the author even though she has written countless letters to him but for some unknown reason the eccentric author now actually responds to their emails. He invites them to drop by if they were ever to find themselves in Amsterdam, believing they will never make the trip. The teens take this as an invitation and start making plans to travel to Europe. Overcoming financial and medical obstacles they find themselves on a magical journey. However, Hazel is sorely disappointed when she comes face to face with her idol. The trip is in no way a waste as highlighted by a visit to Anne Frank’s house that brings some solace, understanding and acceptance for Hazel.

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The European journey is a definite watershed in the movie. The acting is kicked up a notch, the dialogue improves and it becomes more real and gritty. The beauty of the canals, architecture and evening fairy lights are juxtaposed with the meeting with Van Houten and the life of Anne Frank, something that creates a disjointed reality. At first this threw me but it emphasises how far removed the author has drifted from the world inhabited by Hazel and Augustus. In one scene, at first, I’m not sure whether Van Houten is actually there or if he is a figment of Hazel’s imagination.

Willem Dafoe is his usual brilliant self as the eccentric reclusive author Van Houten, but it is Shailene Woodley who really shines. She impresses as the ‘every girl’ young cancer sufferer who could easily be your sister/daughter/niece, whos is as concerned about how her life and eventual early death is hurting her loved ones, as much as coping with cancer is painful to her. Woodley’s Hazel is supported with solid performances by Ansel Elgort (Divergent), Laura Dern (her mother, Blue Velvet) and Sam Trammel (Hazel’s dad, True Blood ).

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Teenagers with cancer are still teenagers and this is where The Fault in our Stars succeeds. They live, laugh, fall in love and support one another through tough times, be it a breakup or loss of a loved one but they are still young and vulnerable. Augustus reminds Hazel even though life is transient it does not need to be all doom and gloom, sarcastic seriousness. Hazel in turn reminds Augustus that one cannot always gloss over the bad stuff – “Pain demands to be felt”.

When the movie started I wasn’t sure who the target audience was as the subject matter – childhood cancer – is quite heavy and not your average teen date night movie but the dialogue is simplistic and has a ‘made for TV’ feel that may annoy a more mature movie goer, but as the movie progresses the characters develop and it all grows into a beautiful, intense story. Just don’t forget the tissues as you are bound to shed a tear or two.

The opening weekend saw The Fault in their Stars sitting at the top of the box office with a first weekend haul of an impressive $48.2 million to beat the rather impressive sci-fi  Edge of Tomorrow ($29.1 million).

Last Updated: June 12, 2014

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