Angelina Jolie | Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Weekend Movies: The Fault in Our Stars (and a little Maleficent)

  Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 6.52.11 PM
Ubiquitous Shailene Woodley. This time with cancer. 

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

MV5BMjA4NzkxNzc5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzQ3OTMxMTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Shailene Woodley is everywhere. Which... well, I hope you like looking at her face. Not content to be the face of the post-Hunger Games YA dystopia fever (Divergent), she's also continuing that other everygirl thread in her career. She reads more like a girl next door, someone you know, than a STAR!; pretty but not intimidatingly gorgeous, relatable not charismatically mysterious.  She's specalized in earnest portrayals of ordinary teens getting their first taste of the tough stuff in life: death and desertion (The Descendants), disease and disappointment (The Spectacular Now). Hazel Grace Lancaster, her character in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, doubles down and has to deal with all of it. 

Hazel is a 16 year old with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. She needs an oxygen tank to breathe, which she drags behind her like a depressing carry-on she wishes she could check. Though she's outlived the initial prognosis she's acutely aware that she'll never grow old. Inbetween flashes of well earned self-pity and sarcasm, she worries about her parents and how they'll survive her death.

She attends a cancer support group for teenagers, at her mother's prodding (Laura Dern, reliably excellent). Mrs Lancaster hopes it will lift Hazel's depression and help her make friends.

Enter the Dreamboat Boyfriend...AFTER THE JUMP

  Fault-cigarette

The support group has your usual movie mix of comic relief characters (the ringleader is a born again buffoon), and tear-jerking extras who have to sell their pain quickly for ambience, before getting out of the way - “Step aside. Plot coming through!”. We quickly focus on two guys Hazel's age: Isaac (Nat Wolff) who is going blind and his best friend Gus (Ansel Elgort) who lost his leg to the disease but is now cancer free. Gus always has a cigarette dangling from his lips which he never lights, his metaphor for acknowledging death’s presence but refusing to give it power or some such teenage profundity. (I lost my notes.)

Though Fault is not a romantic comedy, and the occasional laughs are of the gallows variety, Gus is basically the gender inverted version of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl: adorable, impossible to believe as an actual human as opposed to a "character", but deliciously ALIVE and therefore able to jolt our unhappy protagonist awake for adventure… #YOLO.  Gus comes on strong. Very very strong, really, considering Ansel's charm offensive. He's so cocky, self-consciously "cool" and quick to make the moves on Hazel that a tossed-off confession later in the movie that he's a virgin rings suspicious when it's not meant to. I would say the actor is completely overdoing it but this overplaying does have a few benefits in the last act when things get dark. It wasn't until the movie ended that I realized he'd played Shailene's reserved brother in Divergent so he's got range at least. (When we return to that franchise with Insurgent next year will it suddenly be burdened with incestuous vibes?) 

Once Gus & Hazel are making eyes and texts at each other and trading favorite novels, the plot gets very complicated and even Transatlantic, eventually taking us to Amsterdam and the Anne Frank house. Hazel’s breathing problems make this tourist stop a Herculean effort (no elevators) and at the top of the stairs in that famous room where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis, the teenage lovers make out and (gasp) are applauded for it by the other tourists in what has to be the single biggest eye-rolling movie moment of the year.

TFiOS-

But all the while the threat of sudden death from cancer looms, which is a bummer. But also: the point.

Hazel warns us in voiceover that we have a choice about how to tell sad stories and she’s not going to sugar-coat this one. To some extent she keeps that promise (two funeral related sequences late in the movie and a very frank conversation with her parents are beautifully judged) but the film has enough of the romanticism and broad only-in-a-movie moments (like the Anne Frank house) to hedge its bets. It thinks it's too cool to be maudlin but it's also a little bit maudlin.

Judging the quality of a cancer movie on whether or not it makes you cry and how much ("Four hankies!" - The Blurb Whore Times) is silly. It's a bit like asking if baby kittens are cute and if so which one is cutest? You will have a good cry, the movie delivers there, and sometimes that’s a good reason to go to the movies. If you've lost anyone to cancer when you were both young (full disclosure: I did), fair warning: you will have to towel off from the sheer deluge. But no amount of feels should excuse impromptu makeouts in the Anne Frank house. 

Speaking of death and disappointment…

MALEFICENT

 

I’m sorry I was absent last week when everyone was gagging on MALEFICENT. I was interviewed about it but otherwise couldn’t collect my thoughts, fighting as they were between love of Maleficent the character and love of Angelina Jolie the star. Both are magnificent goddesses but “Maleficent: The Movie” wasn’t really after their marriage but intent on redeeming Maleficent the character. From what? Being AWESOME ?!? I preferred Maleficent when she was calling upon “all the powers of hell” and taunting Prince Charming with some light bondage.

Somehow the movie made me hate that little “beastie” Aurora (Elle Fanning) for softening Maleficent’s black and purple heart. Quoth the Wicked Witch of the West (who would have given this movie two green thumbs down, way down)

Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? 

 

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. Angela Jolie is not a homeless lesbian trans womyn of color! She should not be acting! She's clearly EVIL!

    Posted by: Carmelita | Jun 6, 2014 10:09:39 PM


  2. Which demon did Shailene Woodley sell her soul to?

    Posted by: fanboi | Jun 6, 2014 10:27:01 PM


  3. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS seems a little bit too forced

    Posted by: Billy | Jun 6, 2014 10:54:56 PM


  4. Done with pop culture's obsession with all things teen. Bette Davis would be flipping burgers instead of making films in todays day and age.

    Posted by: tooken | Jun 7, 2014 1:13:09 AM


  5. Before you write off The Fault In Our Stars, I encourage you all to read the book. I had a good cry in the privacy of my own home, not surrounded by teenage girls in a movie theater. And I'm glad I did. It was very good.

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 7, 2014 1:37:39 AM


  6. didn't I read that a gay version had been made
    of this movie?

    Posted by: David | Jun 7, 2014 6:45:30 AM


  7. Why do the two leads in "The Fault in Our Stars" look so much alike? In the shot with the cigarette he looks like her.

    Posted by: Rob | Jun 7, 2014 9:41:31 AM


  8. I've always tended to agree with the adage that a "movie star" should be someone you want to f**k (regardless of orientation). Shailene Woodley is probably a perfectly nice girl, but nothing about her makes me want to do her.

    Posted by: e.c. | Jun 7, 2014 9:55:12 AM


  9. They look like a brother and sister being incestuous....

    Posted by: styler | Jun 7, 2014 10:53:26 AM


  10. @Styler and @Rob...my thoughts exactly. Does cancer turn you into a doppelgänger?

    As for Malificent...I agree. The first half of the movie (her beginnings, up to her attendance at the christening) was fine and then it became unbelievable (I know the pixies gave Aurora the gift that anyone she smiled at would love her). Malificent, the most powerful fairy couldn't remove her own spell and was affected by a pixie's wish. Angelina was terrific, actually--the story not so much. Oddly enough, a straight male co-worker thought Malificent was Magnificent.

    Posted by: woodroad34 | Jun 7, 2014 12:15:13 PM


  11. I agree about Maleficent. Jolie was superb, but it wouldve been so much better if Maleficent had stayed malicious.

    Posted by: leprechaunvict | Jun 7, 2014 9:06:42 PM


  12. No reviewer has any credibility after Roger Ebert passed from our midst (if you don't know what 'midst' is, Google it). Roger was the last film critic, period.

    Posted by: BrokebackBob | Jun 7, 2014 9:13:22 PM


  13. If the movie version of "The Fault In Our Stars" is anything like the book, I won't be crying. I'll either be laughing at the stupidity and pretentiousness, or raging at the stupidity, pretentiousness, unfortunate implications, and unfortunate implications. John Green needs a good slap in the face for appropriating cancer the way he did.

    Posted by: RainbowPhoenix | Jun 8, 2014 3:43:11 AM


  14. ^ One of those "unfortunate implications" should be "extreme protagonist-centered morality".

    Posted by: RainbowPhoenix | Jun 8, 2014 3:46:50 AM


  15. LOL at Brokebackbob. Roger Ebert was a subpar film critic and a mediocre writer. He turned legitimate film criticism into a thumbs up/thumbs down system that was swallowed up by the plebes. If you really want to up your snoot factor, the "last film critic" you're looking for is Pauline Kael. I'm sure you'll have to google that.

    Posted by: bleh | Jun 8, 2014 10:58:22 AM


  16. Skyler and Rob: Sorry, I actually watched the movie. They do not look alike or even like brother and sister in the movie. Judging any movie from a still is just silly.

    Posted by: Liam | Jun 9, 2014 11:02:24 AM


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