Unique among summer blockbusters, The Fault In Our Stars centers entirely on complex characters facing the effects of terminal illness.
The film, based on the bestselling book of the same name, tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a lonely 17-year-old living with thyroid cancer and severely weakened lungs (she relies on an oxygen machine to breathe). Upon her mother’s insistence that she make friends and have some fun, she reluctantly attends a cheesy young-adult cancer support group in the basement of their local church.
There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a confident 18-year-old determined to make the most of the time he has left. Augustus, still recovering from a bout of osteosarcoma, has had one leg amputated to help contain the cancer. Another friend, Isaac, has lost one of his eyes to a tumor and will soon go blind.
All Hazel, Augustus and Isaac seem to want is to be treated “normally.” Hazel knows she is dying, and she must constantly remind her mother (Laura Dern) that her time on earth is limited. Hazel has accepted it, even though she says “it sucks.”
At home, Augustus is surrounded by motivational posters hung by his parents (one involves a rainbow) and old trophies from his athletic days. He now prefers quirky books and monster movies.
In one of the film’s most effective opening scenes, Hazel, while reading her favorite book at Barnes and Noble, looks up and spots a young couple ordering coffee and laughing. She has come to accept that she will never experience a romantic relationship. But Augustus soon falls for her, and most of the film focuses on their short, intense romance. They picnic, watch movies, and even travel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite writer.
The film, directed by Josh Boone, is radical in that it never portrays the characters as “sickly.” Hazel and Augustus text, flirt, kiss and have sex. Isaac, after his girlfriend breaks up with him because of his blindness, eggs her car. When one of the main characters nears death and stops aggressive cancer treatments, he invites his friends to a “pre-funeral” to read their eulogies. He wants to know his effect on their lives.
Libby Ferguson, a 21-year-old who attended the film with her close friend, told Life Matters Media she was excited to finally see a film portraying young people with terminal illness. “I deal with a lot of cancer in my family– my mom actually has breast cancer right now, so it’s very close,” she said. “Everyone was talking about this movie before it came out. It’s not a sugar-coated movie.” Most of the audience, Ferguson added, teared up near the end.
The film, expected to top the box office this weekend, has been met with universal acclaim.