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Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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The Fault in Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Mike Birbiglia, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Sam Trammell
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 126 Minutes
Release Date: June 6, 2013

“I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories. On the one hand, you can sugarcoat it. When nothing is too messed up that can’t be fixed by a Peter Gabriel song. I like that version as much as the next girl does, it’s just not the truth.”

Directed by Josh Boone (Stuck in Love), The Fault in Our Stars is based on John Green’s 2012 young adult best-seller about two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group. Adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer), the film stars Shailene Woodley and her Divergent co-star, Ansel Elgort.

At her mother’s behest, 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Woodley) attends a support group held in a church basement, referred to as “The Literal Heart of Jesus” by their leader Patrick (Mike Birbiglia). Hazel is diagnosed with stage 4 thyroid cancer, which has spread to her lungs. As a result, Hazel drags a portable oxygen tank behind her everywhere she goes.

Her mother (Laura Dern) thinks she is depressed, presumably because she rarely leaves the house and spends most of her free time in bed reading the same book over and over. At the support group, Hazel catches the eye of Augustus Waters (Elgort), a charming 17-year-old who had bone cancer, but is now cancer-free after losing his leg (but not his sense of humor).

The attraction is instant, but Hazel is afraid that she’ll emotionally obliterate Gus when the cancer inevitably comes back. A tentative but rapturous romance develops between the two teens; they go on picnics, read each other’s favorite books, and even find time for a dream trip to Amsterdam where Hazel meets her favorite author. It’s all so idyllic, but of course you know that tragedy lies just around the corner.

Boone’s film tackles its grim realities with humor and honesty, offering a passionate love affair between star-crossed lovers forced to confront their mortality. The problem is, the characters mock the very same clichés of cancer-ridden romances that the film openly embraces. As a result, it’s easy to dismiss The Fault of Our Stars as the young adult version of Love Story – a contrived, manipulative tearjerker that warms your heart for the sole purpose of destroying it later.

Yes, it’s a little labored – a tad overdone – but the performances of Woodley and Elgort are so authentic and disarming that you can’t help but get swept up in their romance, even if it is a bit ludicrous. I mean, there’s a part in this film where they make-out in the Anne Frank House and then everyone applauds their public display of affection. Is that realistic? I don’t know – but the chemistry between the two is enough to look past the more inane parts of the narrative.

It isn’t as inspiring or life-affirming as contemporaries like 50/50 or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but Boone’s lovingly rendered adaptation succeeds in reducing its audience into a blubbering, teary-eyed mess. Woodley and Elgort’s naturalistic performances capture the rapturous joy of true love and the heartbreaking pain that comes from losing those closest to us. Pain demands to be felt – and for fans of John Green’s novel, The Fault in Our Stars demands to be seen.

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