By managing melodramatic content and by capturing seemingly genuine love, The Fault in Our Stars is heartbreaking, but also somehow uplifting.
For that, credit goes to four men: novelist John Green, screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, and director Josh Boone.
It also goes to stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.
As she is sensational The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Descendents (2011), not to mention this year’s Divergent, Woodley has previously established her acting acumen, which means this performance is unsurprising. Though no less impressive. She gives Hazel Grace Lancaster the requisite doses of wit, intelligence, resolve, optimism, and guilt, the last of which Woodley generally shows in side-long glances and withdrawn affect, rather than outward verbal expression. She is a gifted actor, one who continues demonstrating remarkable range.
All the same, Elgort steals the show from her. The director and writers only give him two scenes to directly reveal Augustus’ insecure core, scenes which he makes count with award-worthy emotion. But also doesn’t need. Because Elgort has already shown it to us throughout the rest of the film by making the character’s bravado feel like a defense mechanism, a performance, without ever making it seem that Elgort himself is acting.
Laura Dern (Frannie) and Willem Dafoe (Van Houten) give remarkable supporting performances, as well.
Moreover, director Josh Boone makes several terrific decisions, the most noticeable of which is his soundtrack. First, the music itself is beautiful, both in its sound and in the way it complements on-screen events.
Second, Boone only uses music as a punctuation mark to scenes or a transition between them, meaning it never overwhelms the action. He trusts the material and his actors to heighten emotion.
A trust that is further demonstrated by minimalist close ups, camera movements and editing cuts.
Still, this film adaptation is not perfect. Isaac’s (Nat Wolff, excellent) infrequent inclusions are awkward and forced, not emotionally impacting.
More troublingly, the writers and director do not sufficiently foreshadow the twist. They eliminate three or four of the novel’s most subtle and crucial sequences, a decision that means our reaction is less, “Well, of course,” and more, “Huh.” And then, “Oh no.”
That said, The Fault in Our Stars remains a moving and powerful experience. While it may not be the best book adaptation of all time, it is a very good one.