Four out of five stars
The secret is out. Shailene Woodley is the second coming of absolutely nobody. She isn’t just blazing a trail, this young woman is scorching the earth, and her sublime film acting talents are on full display in "The Fault in Our Stars."
Here, the star of the "Divergent" franchise plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old who’s had cancer most of her life, cancer that will likely soon claim her life. The condition has left her lungs weak to the point she can’t exist without the aid of an oxygen tank.
Hazel’s parents encourage her to attend a cancer support group in a church basement. The group’s led by Patrick: a guitar-playing, Jesus-loving, cancer survivor whose overzealous empathetic nature is grist for Hazel’s perfectly-pitched snark. It’s here Hazel meets the confident, cocky, handsome Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). Gus can’t take his eyes off of Hazel, and he doesn’t care if she knows it. After the support group, he doesn’t just ask her out, he tells Hazel she’s beautiful. Gus, once a talented basketball player, may have lost a leg to cancer, but he didn’t lose his charm.
A courtship begins and, for Hazel, so does an internal struggle. This is all new for her. She’s falling in love and love, even when you’re dying, conquers all -- or does it? She considers herself a grenade and fears that when her cancer kills her, her end will destroy Gus. But Gus, who is awesome, doesn’t care, declaring his love will not die with Hazel.
In the hands of other actresses, Hazel’s attitude may seem trite but like the whole of Woodley’s performance, it feels organic and original. Unless you’re experiencing a similar situation, Hazel’s existence is impossible to know, yet Woodley’s performance displays a depth and purpose mostly unseen in the spate of big-screen young adult novel adaptations we’ve been barraged with over the past decade (Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games" would be the other exception). It’s always in the eyes, isn’t it? Woodley doesn’t have to say a thing -- her eyes are a window into her mind and her heart.
"The Fault in Our Stars" is a movie that will be quoted by teens for generations to come. Some of the dialogue, lifted directly from John Green’s book, is exquisite. The movie does have a few flaws -- it’s a bit manipulative and some of the characters are oversimplified and a bit too perfect -- but those issues are outshone by the depth of Woodley’s performance, her chemistry with Elgort, and the profound humanity director Josh Boone catches with his lens. If you’re not familiar with how this story plays out, you’re in for a few well-executed surprises.
"The Fault in Our Stars" is an industrial-strength teen romance that will make you question everything you think you know about life, appreciate everything you have but didn’t appreciate before, and, unless you have no soul, cry like nobody’s watching. media: 24009827