Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Romantic Movies

When done well, tragic romances are among cinema’s most powerful and memorable stories.  You’d think that would be the case with the movie adaptation of The Fault in our Stars. After all, few premises are sadder than a teenage couple’s first romance being mercilessly obliterated by a deadly disease.

The film's faithfulness to its source material might be its greatest flaw. Sure, it's great for the book's legion of teenage fans, but not for adult viewers who know that real teens aren’t as self-aware and profound as Hazel Grace and Gus Waters. Their witty and philosophical exchanges are a constant reminder that these teens, while lovable, are speaking words written by an adult.

In the long, immersive act of reading a book, the obvious unbelievability of the characters’ speeches and worldviews probably work well. Credit that to John Green being a great writer. But in a movie with a relatively short runtime, it doesn’t get quite the same effect.

Thankfully, the two leads have a natural charm and chemistry to them. Their quirks, angst and awkwardness were portrayed well, making it easy for us to empathize with their problems. Shailene Woodley’s introverted Hazel has a subtle, yet powerful strength of character. Ansel Egort’s Augustus Waters has a magnetic confidence that’s mesmerizing. He may have lost a leg, but not his sense of humor and ambition. They’re both a joy to watch, and their interactions alone make this film seem better than it is.

I also admired Director Josh Boone’s restraint. He did not let this movie devolve into contrived melodrama. But given the nature of this story, that might have been the better approach. 

The most intense parts of the story could have been set-up better. I could see tragedy coming a few scenes before it actually does. This lessens their emotional impact when they do happen. The movie ends up being predictable, which kills the sense of dread that would’ve made it the heart-wrenching story that the book’s diehard fans claim it is.

I also have issues with the soundtrack's placement in the movie. The songs are good on their own, but they tend to be an obvious cue for what the audience should feel in a given scene. It's like they're trying too hard to establish a mood, even when the actors are more than capable of doing so by themselves. Instead of adding depth and drama to the scenes, the soundtrack comes close to being an unnecessary distraction.

But don’t get me wrong, the Fault in our Stars is very watchable film. Just don’t let your expectations get too high. Enjoy it for what is, and you’ll find it refreshing compared to Hollywood’s usual romantic dramas. For the most part, this movie does a great job reminding us that love can bloom even with death lurking constantly in the background.

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