Film of the week reviewed: The Fault in Our Stars

Film pix 19/6/14 Film pix 19/6/14

Damon Smith
Thursday, June 19, 2014
4:10 PM

Only a frozen heart could be unmoved as E.T. bids farewell to Elliot, Bambi cries forlornly in the forest for his fallen mother or Carl falls in love with Ellie in the opening sequence to Pixar’s Up.

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The Fault In Our Stars will offer a stern test to the waterproof mascara of every teenager who fell in love with John Green’s bestselling novel.

Josh Boone’s polished adaptation deftly plucks heartstrings to the point that a trickle of saltwater tears threatens to become an unstoppable torrent.

One tissue simply doesn’t suffice as scriptwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber navigate the tricky topic of terminal illness with wry humour and sensitivity.

The film is blessed with a tour-de-force central performance from Shailene Woodley as a young cancer patient, who experiences the exquisite agony of first love just when it seems she has given up on life.

The 22-year-old Californian actress doesn’t hit a single false emotional note as her protagonist wrestles with guilt and mortality, catalysing smoldering screen chemistry with co-star Ansel Elgort.

Woodley plays 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, who was diagnosed with cancer at an early age and almost slipped away in hospital.

An experimental drug trial has halted the spread of the disease but Hazel is resigned to her grim fate.

“Depression’s not a side effect of cancer,” she explains in voiceover, “it’s a side effect of dying, which is what’s happening to me.”

The teenager reluctantly attends a cancer patients’ support group at the behest of her mom (Laura Dern).

During one session, Grace meets acerbic survivor Gus (Elgort), who lost his leg to halt the spread of his cancer.

He is attending the meeting to support best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff).

Grace and Gus’s shared disdain for convention kindles friendship.

As the relationship intensifies, Hazel attempts to keep Gus at arm’s length, warning that she “is a grenade”, destined to obliterate everyone around her.

“It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you,” he counters tenderly.

The Fault In Our Stars is a beautifully sketched portrait of adolescence, anchored by emotionally raw performances from the talented cast.

Dern impresses as a parent braced for the anguish of burying her child, while Willem Dafoe injects spikiness to the role of Hazel’s favourite author, who doesn’t welcome fans with open arms.

Director Boone makes a couple of missteps, including a crudely engineered scene at Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam that feels wholly inappropriate.

However, once our tear ducts start leaking, we forgive him and the script an occasional faux pas.

*** (3 Stars)

For reviews of this week’s other releases, including 3 days to kill, Camille Claudel 1915, as well as the latest local listings, see the Event supplement in Today’s EDP and Evening News.

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