FaultinOurStarscoverGrade: A-
Entire family: No
2014, 126 min., Color
Twentieth Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality, and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV Copy
Bonus features: B

Augustus “Gus” Waters wants what most teens do: to make a mark on the world, to be famous, to be somebody the world will mourn when he’s gone. That’s ridiculous, 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster says. The world will end and no one will be around to remember even its most famous people, much less the billions who, despite grand aspirations, never fulfilled their dreams. But both of them fear oblivion, and in a cancer support group they find in each other an unexpected love.

Entertainment Weekly called it “The greatest romance story of this decade,” and I can see why. It’s this generation’s Titanic—only cancer is the iceberg that sinks their boat. Though it’s about teens, narrated by a 16 year old, and based on a young adult novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars has a much wider appeal because cancer is not age- or audience-selective. It affects the lives of so many, and this film reassures people that it doesn’t matter if you’re not famous enough to make history (or reality TV, for that matter). In the end, what matters is that your passing is remembered by ONE person—which reinforces that relationships of any kind are more important than accomplishments.  

faultinourstarsscreenNo wonder The Fault in Our Stars has been a runaway hit. This well-cast, well-acted film puts things into perspective. Gus (Ansel Elgort) may have been a basketball star before he lost a leg to cancer, and he’s got shelves full of trophies to prove it. But when his best friend learns he’s going to lose a second eye to cancer and also gets full-system overload when his girlfriend dumps him before the operation, Gus hands him one of the trophies and tells him to break it. Then Isaac (Nat Wolff) goes crazy and grabs every award he can find. It’s one of several mood-lightening scenes that aren’t just inserted for comic relief. They reinforce the film’s messages. So do scenes that emphasize that Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and Gus want to experience a normal life, yet want to face things head on. She bristles, for example, when an oncologist suggests a support group because there she’ll meet others on the same “journey.” And Gus’s smile and sense of humor in the face of adversity are both infectious and inspirational.

I haven’t read the book, but my teen daughter and wife have, and they said the film version is very faithful to the novel and that, probably for the sake of a bigger audience, it doesn’t have nearly the offensive language as the print version. There’s only one main implied love scene between the two teens—no graphic nudity and nothing beyond a kiss and a hand placed where a breast would be (we don’t know it’s actually on a breast, since Woodley’s back is toward the camera). And really, would anyone deny these two terminal patients their chance to experience something like physical love, any more than they’d raise an eyebrow if they toasted life with a flute of champagne?

Films like this were popular in the ‘70s when people called them “Disease of the Week” movies, but those films always gave you stats (we get none here) so they felt like news stories with a face on them. The Fault in Our Stars manages to tell a tragic story and evoke emotions without going too deeply into the soap-opera world of melodrama. The main characters themselves do that, always undercutting euphemisms and telling it like it is. Gus makes fun of Hazel Grace for choosing Disney World as her Make-a-Wish bucket-list trip (“I was 13!”) rather than saving it for a trip to Amsterdam to visit her favorite author and ask him questions. And Willem Dafoe as that boozy, Charles Bukowski-like cynic slices through the sentimentality before it even has a chance to build. Footage of Amsterdam provides some visual romance and a trip to the Anne Frank house more inspiration—and an oddly parallel situation. But you’ll still need a hankie or two to get through this well-crafted film, which should appeal to ‘tweens, teens, and adults.