LIFF review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Louisiana International Film Festival featured a secret, advance screening of The Fault in Our Stars, out in theaters on June 6. Here is 225’s review:

I’d never watched a movie while a security officer, equipped with night vision goggles, stared me down like a SEAL Team 6 sniper, but such were the circumstances for the world premiere of The Fault in Our Stars at the Louisiana International Film Festival a few weeks ago. We didn’t even know what was screening, the secret was that tight even among LIFF staffers who where kept in the dark, but we all turned in our cell phones to the security team—their task was to prevent any pirating of the film—and moved ourselves inside the theater at Perkins Rowe for a first look at something new.

Introduced as the studio’s “pride and joy” and what they consider their big, dramatic awards contender this year, The Fault in Our Stars is based on John Green’s young adult novel of the same name and follows two teen cancer patients who meet at an overly cheesy support group. They strike up an unlikely friendship then begin a halting courtship that ricochets between adventurous, childlike whimsy and dark-humored nihilism filled with a lot of broken laughter shouting back at a cruel and shared fate.

Shailene Woodley, who impressed opposite George Clooney in The Descendants and has since risen to action fame with the Divergent series, stars as Hazel Grace, an eye rolling literature hound who must lug an oxygen tank everywhere she goes. She has begun distancing herself from her loves to protect them from the impact of her eventual death. Her detached, matter-of-fact cool is pierced when she meets Augustus, an outgoing wildcard with a prosthetic leg and seemingly unstoppable desire to cheer Hazel up.

As Augustus, Answel Elgort gives an obviously showy performance, wide ranging and attention-stealing, if a bit overly arch at times. But so often men on a mission must become larger than life, and his precocious swagger and endearing formalities—seriously alarming at first—do grow on the audience just as they melt down the icy walls around Hazel’s heart. The young couple’s chemistry is excellent (they are in Divergent together, too) and the relationship develops naturally, never feeling rushed or filled with cutesy rom-com shortcuts.

Woodley shows real leading lady potential here, creating a character that is complex and relatable above all, even when she makes mistakes. As their relationship deepens and Hazel’s condition worsens, the film shifts to Amsterdam (the cinematography offers stunning out-of-the-way glimpses of this gorgeous city) where she is sent on a trip to meet her idol, a once-promising-author, played gruff and grizzled by Willem Dafoe, who has let personal tragedy turn him into an unproductive drunkard and a recluse. This meeting doesn’t go according to plan of course, and Hazel’s relationship with Augustus takes an unexpected turn in Europe as well, sending the film into a third act that is one emotionally devastating scene after another.

In a film where a young man who loses his eyes to cancer provides nearly the only comic relief—and Nat Wolff is hilarious in that role—the danger is in becoming overly sappy and downtrodden, and Stars does teeter on this brink more than once, but barely escapes on its merit of solid performances and a screenplay that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower will appreciate this picture like no other. When tomorrow is no guarantee, Stars is a film about living for today and holding it as close as possible. It’s about turning fleeting moments into little infinities, and sharing those with the ones you love most.

Watch the trailer below: