Hollywood had trained us to expect stories with happy endings. Of course the characters will go through some challenges and struggles along the way, but by the ending credits, we know all obstacles will be overcome, and the hero and heroine will fall in love and live happily ever after. The trick is, we know real life doesn’t work like that, and there is no such thing as a perfect “happily ever after.” However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still beautiful stories to be told, because mingled with the moments of pain and heartbreak are moments of light and hope and joy.
That’s the kind of story told in “The Fault in Our Stars,” a movie based on a popular young adult novel about falling in love and learning to let go. If you follow my blog, you know I’m more of a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero girl, so a teen romantic drama isn’t the type of film I normally review. But something about the trailer for this one grabbed me, and I’m really glad I went to see it. The film can speak to more than just its teenage target audience, and it’s worth checking out, even if it’s not the type of genre you normally watch either.
In the film, Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl who has been fighting thyroid cancer. She’s growing tired of battling the terminal cancer, of the endless rounds of treatments, and so her mother encourages her to go to a support group with other cancer patients her age. Hazel doesn’t want to go, but at one of the meetings she meets the stubbornly optimistic Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who is in remission and is determined to draw Hazel out of her shell. He teaches her how to laugh and live again and even plans a surprise trip for her to Amsterdam, so she can meet her favorite author. Still, considering her diagnosis, Hazel knows a “happily ever after” likely isn’t in the cards for her. She has to decide if the joy she’s experiencing now is worth the heartbreak coming at the end of the journey.
“The Fault in Our Stars” is a refreshingly un-glamorized and authentic love story. The screenplay doesn’t gloss over the fact Hazel and Augustus are teenagers dealing with a life-threatening disease — we see them struggle and hurt and reach moments of genuine despair. Hazel has to carry an oxygen tank with her throughout the entirety of the movie so she can breathe, constantly reminding us of the battle she has to fight day by day and even hour by hour. The main characters deal with very heavy, adult issues while still trying to find a way to be "normal" teenagers. However, the film balances those heavier issues with some lighter moments, and Hazel and Augustus manage to find humor even in the midst of their challenges.
Although the film draws from some fine performers (including Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother and Willem Dafoe as Hazel’s favorite author), the film belongs to Woodley and Elgort. Both are talented young actors with a lot of promise, and they have great chemistry as Hazel and Augustus. Woodley also starred in the dystopian sci-fi movie “Divergent” earlier this year, but I didn’t think the film made full use of her range as an actress. Thankfully, that isn’t the case with “The Fault in Our Stars”; Woodley gives a down-to-earth, honest performance as Hazel, capturing the hopes, fears, and heartaches of a teenager who knows she’ll probably never get to experience a full life. Elgort is the perfect foil for her as the charming and funny Augustus, with a smile that slowly wins Hazel over.
When a movie has a title like “The Fault in Our Stars,” it really isn’t a spoiler to say you shouldn’t expect the movie to have a happy ending (I guarantee you will cry in the theater). But that doesn’t mean the movie has a bleak ending. Just like in real life, the ending is bittersweet, and the story will linger with you even after the credits stop rolling. The film reminds us of the truth in the phrase "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."