Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern
Indian Express rating: **1/2
“The world is not a wish-granting factory” doesn’t have quite the resonance of “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?”. However, that’s not for the lack of trying. Forty-four years after that opening of Love Story and the ailing woman at the centre of it surged the book and movie to a monster success, here’s another film trying to make the best of a bestseller that was saved from being mawkishly exploitative only because of the spunky, raw and brutally honest notes it managed to strike at regular intervals.
But even John Greene’s book The Fault in Our Stars was transparent in its almost obsessive philosophising, realising that in the well-endowed market of young adult fiction, cancer isn’t enough to get romance love. However, where Greene brought in ethical theories, Venn Diagram, maths, metaphors and a very unlikable author with an equally verbose bent of thought, he also let his teens be teens in a world where few saw beyond her cannula plus oxygen tank and his prosthetic leg, including overindulging in video games.
Despite a readymade audience that comes with such gigantic bestseller, translating all of the above from the romance and the loving to the disease and the dying was never going to be easy. If Boone even gets halfway there, it is on account of Woodley (last seen in Divergent), who truly gets the unlikely Hazel Grace Lancaster that’s at the centre of this story.
Diagnosed with cancer when she was 13 and a death experience later, Hazel is now 17, breathing with the help of a nose cannula, quiet, more tired than cynical about her circumstances, and quite adult in her reactions. That’s clear from even the book she swears by, An Imperial Affliction, about a girl dying from cancer, which ended mid-sentence. The only subject that gets Hazel animated is a reflection on what happens later, after the girl, Anna’s, death.
When an impossibly charming 18-year-old Augustus Waters appears to take a liking to her, at a mutual cancer support group, and equally to the book – which is way out of his normal zombie reading – their fates are but sealed together. Augustus lost his leg to osteosarcoma but now appears on the bend.
To anyone familiar with the book, the film is faithful to a fault from the dialogues to the clothes, the setting and the food, even while skipping over some of the unpleasant details including what would have been an awkward sex scene. It also throws in a limousine for apparently no reason at all.
However, while these dilute the film of some of its essence, the more unpardonable flaw is how insipid all the other characters are, particularly Augustus who exists merely to fulfill Hazel’s dreams unlike the contrast-ridden dreamboat he was in the book.
The film also labours to underline the connection between Hazel’s search for an afterlife for Anna’s story and her concern for her own parents after her death – unlike how it flowed quite naturally in the book. And that’s nothing compared to how it uses Anne Frank’s story to illustrate Hazel’s struggle.
That Woodley even walks away from that last scene — struggling for breath and hauling her oxygen tank up impossible flights of stairs in the Amsterdam house Anne Frank took refuge in, ending it with her first kiss with Augustus and an applause – unharmed, is to her credit. She makes it all seem plausible, pulling along a mostly overwhelmed Elgort with her.
“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities” is another favourite line of The Fault in Our Stars – the point being about time being what you make of it. The film may not stand that test of time but, something tells us, the line will. That may be infinite enough.
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