Let’s say you are one of those many people who want movies to make them feel something, to provoke some sort of emotional reaction. In that case, “The Fault in Our Stars” might be a movie you would enjoy watching, especially if you are young and female. It is the proverbial tear-jerker.
Thing is, though, it is nothing else. Its story is contrived to produce the greatest number of tragic cancer-associated events. Its sick characters are all kids. It is about a romance—actually about a couple of romances that are cut off by the progress of cancer. And there is nothing much in the movie to distract the viewer from all this sadness.
A girl named Hazel and played by Shailene Woodley, who recently starred in the well-advertised teen sci fi flic “Divergent,” has had cancer for several years. She has gotten onto an experimental treatment regimen which has stabilized her health. She still has to tug her oxygen tank around with her everywhere, but she can still tug.
Her well-intended mother (Laura Dern) encourages Hazel to attend a support-group meeting in a church. There she and other cancerous teens can each make brief speeches. One wonders how this could be any help. But it is at one of these meetings that Hazel meets Gus (Ansel Elgort—honest). He likes the look of her.
Gus has lost a leg to cancer but is currently relatively well. He attends the group in company with a pal who has lost one eye to cancer and is about to lose the other one. Virtually every successful joke in the movie has to do with blindness. The one happy scene in the film is when Hazel and Gus take the blind kid to egg the car of the girl who broke up with him. It is a brief scene.
Hazel has a favorite novel about a girl dying of cancer—what else? She has Gus read it. They agree they wish they knew what happened to the secondary characters after the point of view one died. The author is living in Amsterdam. He doesn’t answer mail, but Gus gets a group that provides last wishes to cancer suffering kids to arrange for Ma, Hazel, and himself to fly to Holland for a meeting with Van Houten (Willem Dafoe, making the most of his little role).
Turns out he has become an alcoholic in grief over the cancer-caused death of his eight-year-old daughter. One wonders if AA meetings would help him. The meeting between Van Houten and the kids is unpleasant. But his assistant takes Hazel and Gus, who are clearly smitten with each other, to visit the Ann Frank House Museum. Frank is another kid who suffered a premature death.
After that the couple doesn’t go to a concert, to an art museum, to look at the display hookers near the Old Kirk, or to a coffee shop for marijuana—all things tourists like to do in Amsterdam. Instead they head back to the hotel and have sex.
When they return to America, Gus discovers his cancer has returned with a vengeance. He and Hazel have a few days of philosophic romance of about the level of “Love Story’s” “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” He asks her to prepare a eulogy, and the script makes much of two versions of this. It makes more of the difference than events or the writing merit.
Then there’s a little surprise at the ending. And eventually this long, talky Kleenex-sponsored film is over, without ever having celebrated any of the fun that makes us sad when life ends. “A Walk to Remember” was much better about showing us why we grieve while handling a similar, if less contrived, plot situation. In “The Fault in Our Stars” (a title that will baffle some moviegoers), the fun the star-crossed couple has comes from repeated readings of a book about a girl dying of cancer.
I’m one of those movie-goers who want a movie to do more than beg me to cry. “The Fault in Our Stars” just seemed creepy to me.