“The Fault in Our Stars” beautifully captures the hesitancy, shyness masked by outward confidence, feelings of unworthiness and quiet intensity of teenagers in love. That they have potentially terminal cancer is both central to the story and incidental, for this could be any tale of two people experiencing passion for the first time.
John Green’s much-loved novel and the film taken from it tell us Hazel and Augustus aren’t likely to have much time together: She can go nowhere without her oxygen supply, and he has lost a leg and may not be disease-free.
The title of both was inspired by “Julius Caesar,” but their likely-to-be-abbreviated love suggests “Romeo and Juliet.” In this case, the opposition comes not from their parents but from themselves: If love can’t last, why embark on it at all?
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber avoid clunky, faux-adult dialogue as Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) move from gently sparring friendship to deeper emotion. Director Josh Boone, who previously did only the little-seen comedy “Stuck in Love,” never rushes us through the tender scenes that slowly connect them.
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The movie dips into melodrama once, when Hazel visits Anne Frank’s house: The sick girl contemplates the Dutch Jew robbed of life and a chance at love as a teenager, and the script underlines a point it has already made. One surprise near the end struck me as false, when a character behaved in an incredible way. Otherwise, the narrative flows seamlessly and subtly along.
For once, a film about young people shows parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) who care for their daughter without controlling, neglecting or infantilizing her. The one unsavory adult in the film, an alcoholic author (Willem Dafoe) whose novel bonds the young pair, turns out to have a sound reason for his anger. Even the slightly comic, slightly plaintive sidekick, Augustus’ blind best friend (Nat Woolf), doesn’t become a stereotype.
The movie does have humor, and it’s not graveyard humor. Augustus and Hazel joke about the special treatment they sometimes receive (“Cancer perk!”), and she makes wry comments about their condition and life in general.
If Elgort grows on us slowly, partly because Augustus initially seems cocky, Woodley makes her effect at once: Emotions radiate from her, and she pulls us into her moods in every scene.
Hazel gets the film’s first words and the last ones, which suits the story. Though she’s reluctant to commit to Augustus, she comes to realize all lives are brief: In a cosmic sense, their months together pass in the same eye blink as a millennium. If only people assured of long-lasting joy set out on romantic journeys, nobody would ever fall in love.