Making the Grades
Shailene Woodley has grabbed two big title roles this year. After portraying a feisty societal outsider in the movie Divergent, Woodley takes on a very different character in The Fault in Our Stars. She plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teen that wants to be like any other adolescent dealing with homework issues and worrying about a date for Prom.
But Hazel is not like every other teen. She has cancer.
The cancer has settled in her lungs, forcing her to wear a nasal cannula and drag around a portable oxygen tank. For now, the experimental drug she is taking seems to be working. At least it is delaying her death. In the meantime, Hazel’s mother (Laura Dern) worries about her daughter’s emotional state and wants her to attend a cancer support group. Amazingly the attendees look remarkably healthy considering their diagnoses. Possibly the movie’s biggest fault is that the deadly disease looks too pretty.
Reluctantly, Hazel attends a meeting for the sake of her mother. There she bumps into newcomer Gus Waters (Ansel Elgort). He lost his leg to cancer but has come to the meeting to support his friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) who is about to undergo surgery to remove his second eye. In spite of his own condition, Gus’s gregarious personality makes him stand out in the crowd. (His other defining oddity is the unlit cigarette he often has hanging out of his mouth.)
Considering the bleak forecast for her future, Hazel doesn’t believe in forming long-term relationships. But Gus sees things differently. He wants to pack in every human experience he can before he dies. (Those experiences also include losing his virginity, drinking champagne and helping a friend egg an expensive sports car.)
The film’s contrived premise (based on the best-selling book of the same title) teeters on the edge of becoming overly sentimental even as it encourages viewers to embrace life. While there’s no question the tragic circumstances these young lovers find themselves in are meant to induce tears, Woodley and Elgort do have moments on film that are remarkably truthful. Unfortunately it’s hard to maintain that for the entire movie when an untimely death is inevitable. Some of the stronger scenes involve the teens’ parents. They are wrapped up in the care of their children, trying to find a balance between protecting without coddling, and allowing their youth to lead as normal of a life as possible.
For many fans of the novel, this movie will be a decent adaptation. But that doesn’t mean the screenplay is without some content concerns. The scene in which Gus loses his virginity to Hazel isn’t just a quick fade to black. While it is played to be both tender and slightly awkward, the depiction includes male chest and female back nudity. There is also a sense that life’s hugest tragedy would be to die a virgin. Along with Gus’s cigarette fetish, the movie portrays drinking and a character with an alcohol problem. The script also contains more than a smattering of profanities, a strong sexual expletive and some vulgar language.
The Fault in Our Stars may be this generation’s version of Love Story. Yet just as that 1970’s film promoted some falsities—like love means you never have to say your sorry—this movie’s urging to live life to the fullest might be a little faulty when it includes an excuse for teen sex.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Fault in Our Stars.
Gus and Hazel discuss what will happen after their deaths. Why does Gus choose to believe in an afterlife? Why does Hazel want evidence of it? Does a person’s belief in life after death affect the way they live life now? Would you live differently now if you were faced with the reality of impending death?
When talking about the future, Hazel accuses her mom of being ridiculous when she suggests that Hazel will have the opportunity to travel again. Hazel’s mom says she is only being positive. Do you think she really believed her daughter would get that chance again? Would life be any better for Hazel if her mother took a very realistic view of her daughter’s prospects of survival? Is life better when we have a positive outlook regardless of the outcome?
During her treatments and medical setbacks, Hazel notices the tender and supportive interactions between her parents: holding hands, embracing, tender touching. How does Hazel feel knowing that she won’t have the opportunity to have that experience? What does Hazel’s father do to protect his daughter emotionally when she falls in love with Gus? Why is this relationship a new and slightly difficult experience for Hazel’s parents?