If you're going to see The Fault in Our Stars, you've read John Green's much-obsessed over teen novel, yes? For the gentlemen dragged to this without any preconceived notions, I pity you, because you have no idea what you're in for. I don't explain this warning, because the adaptation is bad--no, no. I pity the unsuspecting theatergoer, because he or she is about to get swept away in a tidal wave of tears from the surrounding patrons.
Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year-old girl who has had cancer her whole life. It started off as thyroid, but now she totes an oxygen tank around with her everywhere to help combat the fluid that builds in her lungs. She repeatedly reads a novel called An Imperial Affliction, because she feels that it is the only book that captures what it's like to have cancer. Hazel's life revolves around the idea that she may die. Her parents (played by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) encourage her to go to a support group for teenagers dealing with cancer, and she meets Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort.
A cancer survivor, Gus has a quality that is simultaneously adorable and honest. He quite seriously runs into Hazel as they walk into their meeting, and his smile is rather disarming. After the meeting, he stands with Hazel as she waits for her mother, and he tells her that she's beautiful. Guys like Augustus Waters (the kind you use their entire name when referencing them) are only the kinds of guys that readers hope of encountering in real life. Perhaps author John Green had no idea how much he was setting everyone up for failure.
Hazel and Gus make each other read the other's favorite novels, but Hazel is very aware of her situation. She doesn't want to get too close to Gus and then break his heart if something should happen to her. This must be insanely difficult considering how adorable and forthcoming Elgort is as Gus. They text adorably, and they do adorable things together. He even uses his wish with the Genies so he and Hazel can visit the reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction and find out what happens to the characters after it's over. They go to Amsterdam, drink champagne first time, and end up taking each other's virginity, in a scene that's a bit too conveniently told.
I had heard that people were crying their faces off while they watched Fault, and I could definitely see why. Tragedy looms over this entire film like a dark cloud. In my showing, it felt as if the audience was there just to have a good cry--as if they didn't know how to express their emotions so they had to buy a movie ticket in order for something to elicit such a response. When Gus brought Hazel flowers, there was verbal crying. When they have dinner in Amsterdam, they started crying (even before Gus professes his unwavering love to Hazel). When the little text bubbles pop up on screen to show their textual devotion to one another, there was verbal crying. It felt like a bit much. Or maybe the outpouring of genuine emotion in the dark privacy of a public theater made me cynical.
For the second time this year, Woodley ably plays a young adult fiction heroine. Her Hazel is gentle, sweet, and modest. She genuinely plays a girl whose condition has separated her from other teenagers her own age. Elgort, on the other hand, has the more difficult task. The dialogue he is asked to deliver is sometimes much more heightened than anyone else around him, and it can sometimes feel like he is trying a bit too hard to be smooth. Augustus Waters is kind of like a Manic Pixie Dream Boy almost. Their chemistry has an effortless quality though.
When I read The Fault in Our Stars, I loved it. I thought it was poetic and sweet and heartbreaking. The film effectively translates the emotions that Hazel confronts, but maybe reading it and seeing it are too different. Reading can be a very intimate, personal experience, so the love story felt that way. Asking you to go through the emotions in a big, dark theater might be too much. The smallness of the book's big love story is lost a bit when it's on a forty foot screen begging to be cried at.