Review: 'Fault in Our Stars' a romance for book lovers

Posted at 06/06/2014 9:58 AM | Updated as of 06/07/2014 2:21 AM
Photo by 20th Century Fox

MANILA - Forget the popcorn and bring a box of tissues when you go out to watch "The Fault in Our Stars," the new movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort.

Based on the best-selling young adult novel by John Green, the movie hits all the requisite notes for a story on star-crossed love: two kids with cancer meet and fall in love before one of them goes to the ever after. It's a story as old as Shakespeare -- older even -- but for teens raised on "V for Vendetta." It's a love story with text messaging but it never loses the timeless heart of a romantic.

Woodley lights up the screen as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old Indiana native fighting thyroid cancer since she was young. Hazel Grace is counting the days to her expiration date and attends a cancer support group at the request of her mom (played by an impressive Laura Dern). It's here where she meets Augustus Waters (Elgort), a former basketball player who lost his leg to osteosarcoma.

Waters falls hard for Hazel Grace, who says she just wants to be friends. It's the set-up for every good romance story: boy pursues girl while girl silently, inevitably falls. Their story may be marred by illness but it's a blip they overcome by sheer, youthful derring-do -- whether it's Gus putting a cigarette to his mouth but never lighting it or Hazel taking a hike while bringing her oxygen bag with her.

Photo by 20th Century Fox

Woodley shines brightest in this role, never descending into mawkish self-pity and never looking too sickly. Similarly, Elgort captivates as the extremely handsome Gus. The two leads simply look good together, whether in Indiana or Amsterdam.

You know it ends bad, you can even guess who dies first when you watch the trailer but still you watch. Because it's not just the ending but the journey.

Star-crossed love is a genre so dependable, we're still writing books about it. "The Fault In Our Stars" gets it all right: the confusion, the quiet moments of affection and the cheesiness of outspoken love.

It also has one thing extra: a romance forged on the love of books. In the movie, the two lovers bond over the book "An Imperial Affliction" and seek out answers from the book's author. When the book's author, Peter Van Houten (played by a scummy Willem Dafoe), turns out to be a lout, it's a well-inflicted slap: the world is not a wish-granting factory and our carefully cultured illusions may be false. There's also a lesson: there might be meaning to pursuing the answers to our favorite books or there might be nothing there at all but the meaning we ascribe to it.

There's a rhythm to a love story well told, whether it's Romeo and Juliet or any other ill-fated romance. "Fault" follows that same pattern: starting off slightly somber, then sweet and then painful wonder. When things get better for Gus and Hazel, it all falls apart.

There is also a delight in knowing that these are literary characters brought to life by Hollywood. How else to explain a jock like Gus saying lines such as: "I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence."

Or here's another one: "You realize that trying to keep your distance from me will not lessen my affection for you."

Or this line, by Hazel: "Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Cheesy, yes. But very, very sweet when heard by someone you love. Also, you get two literary characters visiting the house of a real book author, Anne Frank, whose only work is still being read today.

During the screening, there were so many squeals of girlish delight every time Elgort delivered one of the novel's famous romantic lines. The cinema was also eerily silent during the more dramatic parts, with a few clearing of throats and many dabbing of eyes.

"The Fault in Our Stars" breaks your heart, true, but only after filling it to bursting. And it earns those tears, too. Like all good stories well told, "Fault" makes you ponder sorrow, loss, love and even infinities.