The ‘Fault’ is in the script, not the ‘Stars’

The ‘Fault’ is in the script, not the ‘Stars’

By Karsten Burgstahler

It was the famed comedian Bill Cosby who said, “If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.”

That’s what writer John Green did when he wrote 2012’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” the blockbuster book which follows two teens, both affected by cancer, who fall in love. Neither of our protagonists, Hazel or Gus, must deal with poverty. But both are outsiders, finding humor in their pain and forming a bond through their trials.

This story really isn’t anything new. In fact, the one scene in Zemeckis’ “Flight” where James Badge Dale’s character briefly ruminates on his lung cancer with his fellow patients is more heartbreaking than anything in “Stars.” The difference is “Flight” feels real. “Stars” feels manufactured.

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A bit more on the plot: Hazel (the always charming Shailene Woodley) and Gus (the new on the scene Ansel Elgort) have different types of cancer. Hazel has come close to death and now carries oxygen with her everywhere, while Gus managed to eradicate his cancer, but lost his leg in the process. The two meet at a cancer support group where, refreshingly, neither of them is sarcastic. At least not on the surface.

Hazel has given up on an afterlife, but is obsessed with a book called “An Imperial Affliction,” somewhat because she’s desperate to know what happens after the book ends abruptly. This is an interesting character trait dying to be explored.

But instead of giving us the character study Woodley could’ve shined in, the movie is more focused on reforming the meet-cute. “Stars” actively fights becoming a traditional teenybopper romance, taking some scenes in unexpected directions in an attempt to show life isn’t always rosy. But it fails to go all the way. If directors and writers want to make an impression they can’t just push the envelope — they have to break down barriers. Failing to address things like Hazel’s spirituality beyond a brief exchange does moviegoers a disservice.

“Stars” also comes dangerously close to faltering under a star image problem.

Readers can picture the characters however they want with the novel; once the story moves to the big screen, there seems to be more of a concern about box office returns. Hazel and Gus always seem to be made up, looking their best even when they’re close to death. Gus claims no one finds him attractive because of his leg. But the camera seems to try awfully hard to make him attractive.

This isn’t the first time the screen has seen a contradiction like this. Katniss looks very well fed and fit in “The Hunger Games” even though she’s supposed to be starving.

All of this could be forgiven if “The Fault in Our Stars” actually made a point, rather than hiding behind a smokescreen of catchphrases and revelations engineered to start the waterworks. If it weren’t for Woodley, “Fault” would be just another single, dim star in the solar system-sized romance genre.

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