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Review: There's little to 'Fault' with this young adult romance

Far too often movies aimed at teens tend to talk down to that audience.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort star as star crossed lovers in "The Fault in Our Stars."
Used with permission of 20th Century Fox

When done correctly, however, a teen movie resonates with them. Think of the legacy of John Hughes – The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Hughes had a singular ability to connect with teens in ways that most directors could not at the time.

Today’s movies targeting that audience? Sorry, the silliness of Twilight series doesn’t cut it. But in recent years films such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Spectacular Now have evoked Hughes’ style and matched his ability. Add the weepy The Fault in Our Stars, a four-hanky flick based on John Green’s immensely popular young adult novel to that. The film opens Friday (June 6th) with special screenings Thursday night.

What puts it in such rarified company? The raw emotion mixed with humor that induces tears and laughter at the same time. Add performances that are generally pitch perfect and The Fault in Our Stars comes across as close flawless as many films get.

That’s impressive considering what it could have been – a typical disease-of-the-week TV movie from the Lifetime Network. Instead the audience is given the opposite.

It works primarily because of Shailene Woodley, a young actress whose resume continues to expand with impressive performances (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and Ansel Elgort who will remind more than a few of any number of Hughes’ characters.

The chemistry is real. Their performances match the subject matter of teens dealt a bad hand in life.
For Woodley’s Hazel that means dealing with a form of cancer that hinders her life greatly. Neither she nor her parents know how long she has to live and as it stands she is only kept alive through the miracle of an experimental drug that inhibits her ability to breathe forcing her to cart around an oxygen tank.

For Elgort’s Gus, that includes dealing with the fact that he’s a cancer survivor lucky to be alive because the disease has claimed one of his legs already. That's affected him in ways that give the character a unique spin on life.

Gus notices Hazel and a cancer victim’s support group and is smitten and they begin a two-way friendship, but a one-way romance. Hazel allows her disease to hang over their romantic relationship like Macbeth’s ghost. Gus, however, is patient and waits for the romance to come to him.

That aspect of the film isn’t its primary appeal, however. That lies in the way that the characters confront the unfairness of life and dealing with cancer. Some might say it’s too adult, but the reality is that teens are a lot savvier than their counterparts in Hughes’ films. They’ve had to be stay caught up. There’s rarely any innocence associated with the age any longer. Because of that, Hazel and Gus want to live their respective lives to the fullest and rightly so.

Director Josh Boone gets this and he gets Green’s novel. There is an undercurrent of sadness that runs throughout the film, but there is far more joy to be had. Boone brings all of it to the fore and the result: a memorable movie that’s better experienced than watched.

Movie: The Fault in Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.
Running time: 126 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com