It wants to be this generation's Love Story (1970), starring Ali Graw and Ryan O'Neal, but without all the drama and heated passion. It trades conflict for cutesy and adorable acts to get the audience to love the two leads. Yet, as one supporting character points out, it's only annoying, and it remains annoying and eye-rolling for more than half the film.
Shailene Woodley (The Descendants and Divergent) stars as Hazel Grace Lancaster and Ansel Elgort (Carrie and Divergent) co-stars as Augustus Waters. She's 16 or so. He's 18. She likes to read. He's more into traditional boy things like video games and basketball. They both meet in a support group for teenage cancer victims. Hazel has thyroid cancer. It's given her lung problems. She requires a portable oxygen tank and respirator. Augustus or Gus has bone cancer, which led to his right leg being partially amputated.
The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, which is pretty faithful to the novel of the same name by Josh Boone, makes a big deal out of Hazel and her oxygen tank, but Gus' one leg is all but ignored. He apparently wears a prosthetic all the time, even in bed, which is unlikely, but seeing him have to struggle with it would have been preferred.
There's one reference that his one leg is the cause of his continued virginity, which is ridiculous. Given his personality and how seemingly charming he can be, I doubt a missing leg would have stopped him from getting a girl into bed. This movie almost makes him too charming. However, he's not. He's rather annoying. His use of an unlit cigarette was the chief example of how annoying and cheesy he gets.
The two have an awkward sex scene, which is meant to be awkward due to both being virgins and the fact that each has mechanical attachments. The way they fumble in bed and laugh their way through it is reminiscent of The Spectacular Now (2013), which was another film where a young girl loses her virginity. It's probably reminiscent, not simply because it also features Woodley but also because it was written by the same men, Neustadter and Weber.
After they lose their virginities, The Fault in Our Stars cuts to the next morning to what we assume was a great night of love-making. For two people who have never done it before, it's unlikely the after glow would be so radiant. In the first season of Orange Is the New Black, there was a character who had one leg and in that sex scene, we see the character's lover kiss the prosthetic and acknowledge the real awkwardness. This movie doesn't acknowledge that. It glosses over that.
This movie doesn't deal with true awkwardness or true pain. A discussion on whether Hazel and Gus believe in God or not had potential, but the movie glosses over it. The horrors of the Holocaust are at their fingertips, but again the movie glosses over it for an unneeded stair climb and ridiculous applause that makes no sense and is somewhat offensive.
However, when the end comes and it's time for the inevitable heart strings to be pulled, Woodley gives a great performance of a young girl devastated by love loss. She delivers a heartbreaking eulogy in a way that believably unleashes tears. The first half of the movie really gives her nothing to do. It's not until her encounter with the character played by Willem Dafoe do I finally become interested in her as a person.
I was never as interested in her as Ali Graw's character in Love Story but she becomes somewhat interesting. Elgort's character never became interesting to me. He's of course far from Ryan O'Neal
Two Stars out of Five. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language. Running Time: 2 hrs. and 5 mins.