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Thread: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (Josh Boone 2014)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (Josh Boone 2014)

    Josh Boone: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)


    A "fairly unsentimental" teenage cancer romance

    Yes, that is what one enthusiastic reviewer said about this adaptation of John Green's young adult bestseller: fairly unsentimental. This is to admit that it is sentimental, but avoid saying how much. The answer is very much. But unlike its famous 1970 bestseller-into-movie predecessor on this theme, Love Story, it's more leavened, if less than the novel, with irony and snark. These are not so much John Green's angles but qualities he picked up from today's young generation, researching his book.

    A boy and girl fall in love after meeting in a cancer support group. He's had bone cancer and has a prosthetic leg, but might live. She's in remission, but goes everywhere with an oxygen tank, and her chances of survival are virtually nil. "I'm a grenade," Hazel (Shailene Woodley) tells Gus (Ansel Elgort). She acknowledges that she's going to die and it's going to devastate everybody around her. And make the audience cry. It's preordained. The fault of The Fault in Our Stars is in its setup. Young couple, one is soon to die. It's operatic material. Only, of course, it could be dealt with in a dry and realistic manner. That is not truly the case here. In this Liebestod, love in death is viewed through a haze of sweet romance and good taste. It's sentimental, heavily so, but never saccharine or corny. For what it is, it is very well done.

    Gus tells the support group what he fears most is "oblivion," not pain or death but not living an important life. He carries cigarettes but never lights them. "You put the thing that has the power to kill you between your teeth," he says, "but you never give it the power to kill you." It's a "metaphor," he says. He meets the world with panache and a show of good cheer. Has ever a fresher-faced, more angelic young adult male popped an unlit cigarette in his mouth and smiled?

    "There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen, and that's having a kid who bites it from cancer," says Hazel in her voice-over. That's the grenade part. Hazel's mother Frannie (Laura Dern) pours on the good cheer, pep-talking Hazel to the support group. "Make some friends!" she says.

    Nothing could be shittier, but the nice music (including Jake Bugg's "Simple As This" early on) and the voice-over and the nice-looking people are ways that the experience is controlled and mitigated for us. "The sharp edges of the story are sentimentally sanded down," which Peter Bradshaw wrote of the director Josh Boone's first film, applies here. And that is a weakness Fault cannot escape, which is evident from the first scenes between Gus and Hazel. Gus is a charmer who speaks every line with a smile that makes Hazel, or "Hazel Grace" as he charmingly calls her, smile sweetly back. If Gus were not so tall and smooth and chipmunk-cheeked he might seem like a jerk, he's so overconfident. But that's his wooing manner, which he uses on Grace, and Elgort uses on the audience. He's a polished young actor, whose style is ideally suited to rom-com. As Gus's young pal being blinded by cancer, Isaac, Nat Wolff is another promising actor (strong in Gia Coppola's recent Palo Alto), who has more of an edge; unfortunately his character gets trimmed in the screen version. Woodley, who showed complexity in her breakout performance in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, is capable of much more, but settles comfortably into this relatively simple, if heavy, role, and gives it her all.

    Writers Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, who did the adaptation of Green's novel, wrote the scripts for (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now, and the dialogue has a similar ring. Gus's buoyancy echoes the overconfidence of Sutter, the young alcoholic played by Miles Teller (and his girlfriend, similarly swept away, was played by Shailene Woodley too). Seeing these films together, one gets a sense of young men as charming deceivers, whose deceptions work well for a while, while they're young -- or while they're alive.

    It's tricky to edit down a story as simple as Green's, as must be done for this film, or so it seems. Notably, Gus had a former girlfriend, Caroline Mathers, who died of brain cancer, and whose unseen shadow complicates his love for "Hazel Grace," and he needed that complexity. Even more of that comes in the book from the story he tells of his days of glory as a basketball player, gone forever now, and the time leading up to losing part of his leg; likewise details of his large family, clipped out by Weber and Neustadter in the interests of speed and clarity. There is more about Gus's cancer in the book, and more of his vulnerability, foreshadowing its return.

    Hazel introduces Gus to a book she loves about cancer, An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Van Houten. He likes it, but can't stand the open ending. Van Houten is a recluse, living in Amsterdam, but Gus wangles an invitation to visit the writer. And, despite their illnesses, they are able to go. Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), who turns out to be alcoholic, depressed, and mean, sends them away with no answer. The trip was romantic, but the visit is a breath of reality and ugliness. Later, there are surprises. You never know who will die, or when. Van Houten is a surprise too.

    Amsterdam punctuates the film, separating the long meet-cute from the long dying, the serious onslaught, the end, the eulogies -- and the loud weeping, which, at a well-attended screening, will be heard echoing through the cinema. That is what The Fault in Our Stars is about: a good look at youth, and illness, and love, and death -- and a good cry. It provides all that, and if all that is what you want, you should watch it.

    The Fault in Our Stars, 126 mins., debuted at Seattle 16 May 2014, and opened theatrically in the US 2 June. It comes to many other countries this summer including the UK 19 June and France 20 August.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-30-2014 at 06:31 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    I recommend Tom Shone's review in The Guardian. He's mean, but in a good way. He nails it. Tough love. Because you have to be hard on this movie (and its source), and you have to acknowledge that it works, and so he says it's "crud," but but "the higher kind of crud that leaves you feeling OK with yourself in the morning. " To offset this severity, he gives it 4 out of 5 stars, which is damned high. The Guardian has great film criticism, and spares no expense, sending a full staff like no other paper to Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto. As is not unusual, The Guardian has two other reviews, and their most visible critic, Peter Bradshaw, finds the movie just too manipuative anc crsss, and gives it a 2 out of 5, but Shone is the one who gets it right, jabbing and celebrating at the same time. It's what I wanted to do, but the muse was unavailable. Tom Shone wrote a really great review, that's fun to read and covers all the bases.


    The Fault in Our Stars: 'The swoony, drop-dead hit of the summer' – first-look review
    Adaptation of John Green's YA bestseller is as mushy as they come, but you'll feel good about weeping into your popcorn

    Oh, to be a teenager in love, suffering from stage four cancer! Adapted from John Green’s bestselling YA novel, about love-struck cancer teens — a piece of doomed-love romanticism served up with bright-eyed, almost evangelical zeal — The Fault in Our Stars is dubious in the extreme, and morally and ethically objectionable from just about every angle. It elevates cancer sufferers to the same exalted state of higher being to which tuberculosis sufferers were once hoisted by Keats and Byron, or vampires by Kristen Stewart fans. It’s Twilight on chemo. It’s a few inches shy of launching a fully-fledged romantic death cult. It’s the swoony, drop-dead hit of the summer. You’ll love it.

    The cast list divides neatly in two: those with cancer and those poor souls without it. In the plus column is Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a 17-year-old high school kid with bangs she tucks behind her ears, and a small cylinder she carries around everywhere, supplying oxygen to her lungs through a tube into her nose. “How are you doing?” asks her mom one morning. “You mean besides the terminal cancer?” replies Hazel, who, having survived a brush with the disease at age 13, has long since availed herself of the degree-zero humor of its survivors. She calls herself “the Keith Richards of cancer kids”, which makes it sound like the ultimate high school clique, second only to emo kids, goths, or Bieber haters.

    The movie is up to its armpits in the weird, inverted glamour of the sick. Nudged by her mother, Hazel attends a support group, headed by a bearded Jesus freak, filled with fellow cancer kids, and in her spare time reads books like The Imperial Affliction by cult Dutch author Peter Van Houten. “What's it about?” asks a handsome kid named Augustus (Ansel Elgort) with sleepy blue eyes whom she meets in group. Three guesses. “Cancer,” replies Hazel, quickly adding, “but really it’s the best book about dying written by someone who gets it but who isn’t themselves dying.”

    Augustus gets it. Having lost a foot to the disease, he now trails unlit cigarette from lip, as a way of daring fate to interrupt his determination to live an “extraordinary life”. He wears the mysterious, unalterable smirk of someone famous and adored in another universe, who is just waiting for this one to catch up. Elgort played Woodley’s brother in Divergent, but here seems much more personally and professionally fulfilled to be playing an out-and-out dreamboat: a self-confessed virgin, Gus texts when he should, boasts killer abs and gets up immediately from his video game when Hazel enters the room — by common agreement, the modern definition of gallantry. Hazel can’t take her eyes off him, as if incredulous at his all-round gloriousness, and he agrees to be drunk in, in a spirit of magnanimity as much as anything else.

    The film works on only one level, but so completely on that level that the rest doesn’t seem to matter: Woodley and Elgort have terrific chemistry. There will doubtless be cynics who fail to take Gus at his own estimation – “I'm really kind of an awesome guy”– on the grounds that he isn't really any kind of guy at all, more a gleaming, golden incarnation of the filmmakers’ desire to pave every step of Hazel’s way (and by extension that of her audience) with fluttering wish fulfilment.

    Point taken. “The world is not a wish-granting factory,” says Gus, unlike the movie, which is a wish-granting machine. It’s all soft touches, like being covered in kisses. I’ve never heard so many sounds of "aw!" from an audience. Tracking down Van Houten via email, Gus elicits an invitation to visit and lays on an all-expenses paid trip to Amsterdam, where he takes Hazel to a champagne dinner, declares his love for her and, the next day, takes her to see her hero. Van Houten turns our to be not only scowling and drunk, but played by Willem Dafoe, which is a bit like coming across Max Schrek grinning at you, fangs and all, at the centre of a bunch of roses.

    Dafoe gives a snarling little speech on infinity, fictionality and the limits of adult pity —the only serious misstep of the film, popping its mood with a burst of vinegar. They end up in Anne Frank’s house, of all places, where Hazel pants up the stairs with her oxygen cylinder to the sound of tour-guide narration (“Where there is hope there is life”), reaches the top, kisses Gus and receive a round of applause for her labors. You won't know where to put yourself. The whole episode feels almost drunk, it's so bad, but then it seems to be the curse of these YA adaptations, that the very in-built audience that guarantees a studio green light also seems to guarantee a timorous fidelity to every comma.

    Otherwise, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber — who wrote 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now — do a good job of hewing to just enough realism, and intelligence, as is needed to allow the fantasy to slip down. “OK, lungs, keep your shit together,” Hazel tells herself, before embarking on that Amsterdam date. And “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once,” is simply a great movie line, whichever way you cut it.

    This is probably the role that will seal it for Woodley, who, since first drawing praise in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, has proven a shy performer – helpless in the face of a direct compliment, those eyes wide like a deer, her lines readings always diminishing in volume, as if she’s fading right in front of you. She spent much of Divergent looking as if she wanted the ground to open up beneath her feet and swallow her. That’s perfect, of course, for Hazel –who is fading out for good – although she throws in a little J-Law sass for good measure.

    The film begins and ends with a close-up of those big brown eyes and, really, on some level, there’s nobody in it but her. The whole thing is an extremely sophisticated version of that solipsistic teenage fantasy where you imagine yourself dead so you can hear what is said at your own funeral. Here we get two eulogies, read while their subjects are still alive, during which I heard something I’ve never heard from an audience: first a collective snuffle, with maybe the odd honk, as people wept openly into their drinks, followed by laughter, as we all heard ourselves and realised our own foolishness for falling for such crud.

    Make no mistake: the film is crud, but the higher kind of crud that leaves you feeling OK with yourself in the morning. It opens the valves and cleans the pipes. I went in sure I would hate it and emerged, two hours later, pale-faced and tear-stained, marveling at the scale and speed of my wipeout. “There was a lot of crying in that theater,” I heard one young man report into his cell phone, in the hushed tone you might reserve for a massacre. “Man, that was ugly.”

    --Tom Shone, THE GUARDIAN. 5 June 2014
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-01-2014 at 01:02 AM.


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