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Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars' has its moments, but it has its limitations

The film works well within the limited context it applies itself with.
The film works well within the limited context it applies itself with.20th Century Fox

The Fault in Our Stars

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There are elegant complications that arise when one faces death. Such complications become both urgent and confusing with those who face death have not lived much of their life. Josh Boone's 'The Fault in Our Stars' tackles an incredibly intense subject matter driven from a successful young-adult novel. Cancer among the youth is always a tragedy of the inexplicable horrors life throws us and the knowingly forgone chances of living a fulfilled life. If there was one major achievement in this film it would be the acting of Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancester, who embodies a persona of cynical stubbornness to cope with the inevitability of an abbreviated life. Within this persona is a nostalgic ideal that serves as a consequence of the pain she has suffered since she first contracted cancer at age 13. It is when she meets Agustus (played by Ansel Elgort) that her perspective on her dire situation might change (or at least morph).

Applaud is worthy for Woodley with minor hesitation because, where much of the general problems stem from, the screenplay never really gives the characters the free reign to just be. Woodley does a fantastic job within the very limited context of her character who sometimes seems simplistic in emotional capacity. Many of the lines being delivered only provide an expose, though the taut humorous whims of the characters provide interesting insight to the aforementioned confusion. Hazel, at the beginning of the film and in a voiceover narration that remains strong in the first third of the film, explains this story is not like the sentimental sap that Hollywood produces and this is the brutal truth...of course, the idea of cancer is brutal inherently and there is never really a film, whether it would be, "Terms of Endearment," or the more recent, "50/50," and even the incredibly popular show, "Breaking Bad." Yet, throughout this slight 'Juno'-esque approach, there was a general sense of limitation that goes far beyond just Woodley's character; the narrative construction seems to be more caught up with setting up the brutal end results with predictability than with the contemplative chaos of this sort of dreaded situation. Indeed, the camera doesn't seem to explore the landscapes of the characters, whether it is physical or mental, but almost passively observe the appropriate dialogue being exchanged in order to advance the plot.

What is in the film, though, is still well-executed. It is just what is there is not ambitious enough or confident enough to enable a talented actor like Woodley and her costar to explore the silence of these moments (and, to be fair, crying is not the only action that qualifies as standout acting...sometimes it is the little things). The last third of the film, which showcases the unraveling of the ill-fated romance, had many moments that emphasized silence but the filmic choices resulted in unecessary concern over what song to put in the soundtrack then any sort of appreciation for raw emotion that could be extrapolated in the moments where Hazel is left on this earth alone. For example, instead of using Isaac (played by Nat Wolff) in one scene as a pure plot device to tell Hazel to go back and read a note she crumpled up, why couldn't Hazel have come to that important decision herself with a moment of thought, where the viewer could only guess what she was thinking instead of telling us the next step of plot progression. Granted, it could have been in the book...but, that shouldn't be an excuse for these sorts of missed opportunities time and time again and there are moments like this where Hazel seems to forget past events on a whim that only to lead the viewer to believe this narrative wanted to be as clear-cut for the intended target market, leaving out much-needed ambiguity or imaginative curiosity between filmmaker and viewer. In addition, the strangest scene employed has to do with a first kiss within the house that Anne Frank hid in during WWII. This leads to a lesser gripe about forced metaphors, a gripe so ironic since one of the pinnacles of Hazel's relationship with Agustus is the cigarette metaphor, which is done with care, yet there are also some others, like one dealing with Zeno's Paradox, that is hastily injected and felt forced.

Still, there are fine moments in the film. The predictability of the first third of the film and its romantic comedy cliches it hinges upon culminates in an eerie scene where Hazel's idol, Peter Vam Houten (played with wearied vigor by Willem Dafoe), obliterates any sort of positivity Hazel and Agustus solidified between each other. The scene is handled with care and the silences are potent. Woodley shines in her many scenes that involves intense emotional showcases and her eyes can amplify a building anguish within her character's heart. There is care within the filmmaking, no doubt, yet the care seems more in easily organizing a narrative filled with struggle nicely to maintain the young adult appeal. Through this approach, it lost potential substance that would give a more visceral exposition into the human condition under extreme duress. Nevertheless, it will be liked by most, and for good reason.