Published Jun 06, 2014Young lovers beset by illness have provided fodder for on-screen drama since time immemorial, with everyone from Ali McGraw in Love Story to Charlize Theron in Sweet November attempting to induce audiences to grasp for the Kleenex. The latest entry, The Fault In Our Stars, adapted from the best-selling John Green novel, is able to coast on the ample talent and appeal of its two stars most of the way, before ultimately succumbing to the inevitable familiarity of it all.
Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) even have names that are tailor-made for an ill-fated couple. The teens meet at a cancer survivors group — he lost part of his leg to the disease while she struggles with stage-4 thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. They are drawn to one another immediately, bonding over a book with the unfortunate title An Imperial Affliction and its reclusive author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe).
When Van Houten actually reaches out and invites them to visit him where he resides in Amsterdam, the pair jumps at the chance to have some of their questions answered about the book's abrupt ending. It's there that their obvious feelings for one another finally blossom into more than a friendship as they learn a harsh lesson in the difficulty in meeting your heroes.
While it's admittedly a little creepy at first to see the brother and sister from Divergent falling for each other, Woodley and Elgort generate convincing chemistry to propel the evolution of their courtship. The way they slowly develop a short-hand with each other and crack jokes to undercut the reality of her failing health rings with sincerity. It's all the more disappointing, then, that as it approaches the kind of emotional terrain where all tearjerkers of this ilk are required to tread, the pay-off feels a little stale.
Director Josh Boone's debut feature Stuck In Love, which premiered at TIFF a couple of years ago under the working title Writers, dealt with a few different love affairs between men and women at various stages. That film had its moments, and though it didn't hang together perfectly, it could never be accused of lacking heart. Helped by an adaptation from The Spectacular Now's screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, Boone brings the same kind of warm and sentimental tone to the material here, framing the genuine rhythms of a burgeoning romance with a disarming lyricism.
But as much as The Fault In Our Stars wants to subvert the mawkish sub-genre by slyly winking at it, it can't quite transcend the more maudlin instincts that typify stories of the young and terminal. Though teens that weren't privy to all of Augustus and Hazel Grace's predecessors may be affected, it will probably feel like just a couple more star-crossed lovers to those that have already wept for plenty of them before.