Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Fault in Our Stars

Film #440


Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

Year 2, Film #75

THE REVIEW: The main character, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), starts the film off by telling us that there are two ways to tell a sad story: you can either sugar coat it or tell it like it is — the hard truth. The Fault in Our Stars is a sad story, there’s no getting around that. But the brilliance of the film is that it provides a third option for telling the story: be brutally honest but provide a little sugar to try and soften the blow. As you can probably guess, that little bit of sugar only makes the ending of the film more emotional because you start to believe there is hope only to have it turn out not to be the case.

The two most important elements in The Fault in Our Stars are the characters and the relationships they form. Without one or the other, the whole film would fall flat because every emotion you feel — both happy and sad — is a result of these characters and their relationships. Even from the first scene where Hazel has her internal monologue about how we tell sad stories, you’re thrown right into the thick of things. Being able to so easily relate with everyone may make these character’s seem like templates or full of clichés, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. While it doesn’t take much for you to feel like you know these characters, they are unique and nothing shows that better than how they grow as the film goes on. The characters you see and know at the end of the film are not the same as they were in the beginning. Much happens to them as the story unfolds and it’s this change — this difference from beginning to end — that makes these characters unique. All of them are connected — Hazel and Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort), Hazel and her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell), and even Hazel and you, the viewer — and every moment, every action, every exchange, sucks you deeper into these character’s lives until you feel as if you are right there alongside them.

While the characters serve as the foundation for the film, the tone of the film is what’s built on top of the foundation and makes The Fault in Our Stars so brilliant and entertaining. As I said at the top, this is a sad story and the film is very upfront with that. You are aware from Hazel’s opening lines that something bad is going to happen in the end. You may not know what exactly is going to happen, but you know that something is. The film is very much like Romeo and Juliet in that way. Shakespeare’s play starts with the prologue (“Two households, both alike in dignity…”) that tells you everything you’re about to see in the first minute. But like Romeo and Juliet, The Fault in Our Stars is much more than about know the major plot points; it’s about the journey to get to them and the emotions that come with that journey. And while Hazel sets you up with the pretense that she won’t sugar-coating things, the film nonetheless has many funny, happy, and hopeful moments that make you forgot about the impending sadness. And it all feels very natural. It’s very rare for a film to be as funny as it is in the beginning (the support group especially has many laughs) and also be so sad at the end that there is an entire theater full of people crying.

The Fault in Our Stars is beyond a doubt one of the best films I’ve seen this year and one of the most powerful and emotional stories that I’ve heard in a while. Never before have I witnessed an entire audience sniffling and sobbing for the last thirty to forty minutes of a film. Typically for a sad film, you’ll hear a few people bring out their tissues but with The Fault in Our Stars you could tell there were rows and rows of people with wet faces, myself included. Before going into the film I heard how sad it was from people who had read the book and knew a lot of people would end up crying. However, I never could have prepared myself for what I was about to watch and how much I would react to it. This is all due to the movie magic that is especially present in this film and the misdirection that occurs throughout. Like any good magic trick, you’ll think you know what’s going on the whole time only to be totally and utterly shocked at the end. You should make time to go see this film while it’s in theaters.

The Fault in Our Stars opens in theaters tomorrow, Friday June 6, 2014.

THE RATING: 5 out of 5