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'The Fault in our Stars': Worthy of your tears

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The Fault in Our Stars

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The Fault in our Stars” showcases two terrific young actors—Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. We’ve seen Woodley before and know how wonderful she is. Elgort may be new to many, and he is just as great.

Directed by Josh Boone, with screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on John Green’s best-selling book, “The Fault in our Stars” revolves around teens afflicted with various forms of cancer. Full of both laughter and sniffles, the film is so much more than a cancer story. It’s about life, love, families, friends, and, yes, pain.

“The Fault in Our Stars” is told through the eyes of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley). She has a form of cancer that requires her to be attached to an oxygen tank. Smart and cynical, Hazel is forced by her parents (Sam Trammell and Laura Dern) to go to a cancer support group. At one meeting she literally bumps into Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) before the meeting starts. Augustus is immediately taken with her, and when she speaks up during the meeting, he’s also smitten by her brains, sense of humor, as well as her beauty. Hazel falls pretty hard, too. Augustus is cute, funny, utterly charming, and smart, too. His cancer is now in remission, but because of his cancer, Augustus, a former athlete, lost his leg and now wears a prosthetic one.

Hazel and Augustus bond quickly and before long are spending time at each other’s homes. Augustus’ parents are quiet, but given the framed upbeat philosophical sayings that decorate the home, are big believers in the power of positive thinking. We get to know Hazel’s parents (Sam Trammel and Laura Dern) a little better. Because Hazel has had close calls before, they are grateful for every day they have with her. Hazel, early on, tells us that she knows she has an expiration date, but so far has managed to beat the odds. Because of her health, Hazel refuses to use the “L” word with Augustus and insists that the two remain just friends. In a beautiful, but short scene, Hazel’s father even tries to lower Augustus’ expectations by beginning to tell him of her history, but Augustus isn’t one to listen.

Hazel has been buoyed through the years by a book, An Imperial Affliction, written by Peter van Houten (Willem Dafoe), about a girl who has cancer. The book ends mid-sentence and for years Hazel has wondered about the fates of the various characters. She has written to van Houten, but has never heard back. Hazel introduces Augustus to his work and he also is wowed by the novel. Augustus arranges through a Make-a-Wish-like foundation for them to meet the author in person in Amsterdam where he now lives. For those who haven’t read the book, it wouldn’t be fair to give away any more of the plot.

There are so many unbelievably talented young actors in today’s Hollywood, one can only hope that there is enough good material in the future for all of them. In the meantime, “the Fault in our Stars” is fortunate to claim three of them, along with some excellent veteran actors. Shailene Woodley just continues to grow and surprise us as an actor. She is absolutely amazing as Hazel. Woodley is just so very genuine and she makes Hazel very real. She never seems like a victim and that is very much due to Woodley. Woodley shares the screen almost equally with Ansel Elgort and he is most definitely her equal…which is going some. He has the ability to easily show us both Augustus’ self-assured and vulnerable sides. Nat Wolff is fabulous as Augustus’ friend, Isaac, who is in the process of losing his eyes due to cancer. Despite his circumstances, Isaac supplies much of the movie’s comic relief. Sam Trammell and Laura Dern are especially good as Hazel’s parents. For those of us used to seeing Trammell as “True Blood’s” shape-shifting bartender/heart-throb, it’s a bit of a shock to see him as the parent of a teen. But he pulls it off. He’s extremely convincing as the compassionate father. Laura Dern’s part is larger and she’s excellent. Dern has to go back and forth as stern parent, compassionate friend and worried, but calm mother, and she does it all beautifully.

Is the “Fault in our Stars” sad? Most certainly. But it is also funny, clever, life affirming without being preachy and just all around amazing.

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