Despite capitalizing on an overbearingly played sympathy card, The Fault in Our Stars is – at its core – pretentiousness incarnate cum quirky fatalist romance. Translated from the titular John Green novel, our narrator Hazel (Shailene Woodley) graciously invites us into her life as a terminally ill teenager. Alternately accepting of and hung up on her affected lifestyle, things take a slow-burning turn for the better upon meeting one Augustus – a charming male cancer survivor that soon remains intent on winning Hazel’s heart. Predictably cliched jabs at young adult-infused romantic fiction ensue as our protagonists mature via having a positive effect on one another.
First and foremost, let it be known that my aim here is not to earn the title of “Contrarian Asshole.” In fact, I admire The Fault in Our Stars‘ well-educated rumination on the hardships of one such as Hazel’s predicament. Terminal illness is nothing to shrug off, and it’s inevitable that people personally affected by the subject in some capacity will gravitate toward this particular film. There is, however, a fine line between well-educated and romantic authenticity. While many a coming-of-age romcom has been tackled in a multitude of reality-defying ways, The Fault in Our Stars unfortunately trades personable leads for unbelievably fantastical archetypes, more specifically ones that bite down on but don’t smoke cigarettes as a metaphor.
As I don’t deny the obvious intelligence of the gifted teens at its core, the film’s questionable dialogue and scenarios feel so transparent in their intentions (cue ineffectually evocative soundtrack) that involvement tends to take a back seat to predictability. We get it – Hazel hates the world. Dealt an especially bad hand in life and glued to an oxygen tank, no one expects this young girl to give anyone a chance that hasn’t done the same for her. Then, all of a sudden, along comes the striking Augustus that takes an immediate liking to her in an attempt to comment on fate and its existence in any capacity. The two inevitably hit it off, the latter initially doing more for her than she’s used to until they unbelievably embark upon a literal cross-continental, albeit objectively unfruitful journey to meet a literary icon.
Even as you view it with a grain of salt, The Fault in Our Stars still has the audacity to benchmark itself on the top floor of the Anne Frank House. This aside, the film still remains an elaborately cloying endeavor that employs its attractive leads’ appeal to a startlingly high-grossing effect. After all, it’s one thing to sympathize with Hazel and another entirely to exploit a condition for artistic diversity’s sake. As I tend to lean toward the latter in defense of this critique, let it be known that fans of the novel and/or steadfast romantic fiction will be more than pleased, although a certain cheesy gusto will or won’t detract from your viewing experience.