Hazel Lancaster is sixteen years old and has terminal cancer. Pressured into attending a support group by her parents, she meets the dynamic and intriguing Augustus ‘Gus’ Waters. Feeling an instant chemistry, the pair form a friendship which develops as they spend more time together. However, the terminal ticking time bomb catches up with them and facing what is coming is harder than either of them imagined.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014) – Director: Josh Boone
Running Length: 126 mins
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern
Genre: Romance, Drama
Based upon the book of the same name by John Green, ’The Fault In Our Stars’ tackles the difficult subject of childhood and teenage cancer. While the teen romance is fairly standard fare, the issues raised are, for the most part, boldly but sensitively handled. Sadly, the movie doesn’t quite hit the mark of being truly understanding of young people who suffer from terminal illness.
The characters frequently and casually talk about their respective cancer experiences but, as they act no differently to teenagers without the illness, this comes across as more flippant than brave. The majority of the movie focuses on the characters while they appear to be healthy. There are very few strong emotions from them – anger, frustration, distress, etc – they are simply indifferent and completely accept their fate, begging the question of whether terminal illness really is an essential tool to tell the story, or a more cynical identifier to grab attention and is potentially offensive therefore towards the very audience ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ is claiming to represent. Such jarringly unrealistic characterisation has the knock on effect of making the characters, oddly, less relatable.
With no explanation, Hazel is unnaturally intelligent and cultured for her age, making her appear to be rather pretentious; Gus also falling foul of swinging too far past ‘lovable rogue’ and into ‘annoyingly self-assured’. There are barely any challenges for them to overcome, apart from Hazel’s reluctance to get too close to Gus and of course the blindingly obvious tragedy to come, making the movie drag towards its inevitable conclusion. Perhaps the worst part of the movie (and most obliviously offensive) is when the pair kiss for the first time in the Anne Frank museum and everyone in the room starts to applaud them (whether the director is aware of the warped message that teen love is much more important than the issues raised at the museum is unclear).
This movie is bound to be a hit with its target teen audience and anyone who enjoys a romance with an element of sadness to it but it probably won’t be well received by those who are not already fans of the genre.
IS ‘THE FAULT IN OUR STARS’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
Hazel reluctantly attends a support group for young cancer sufferers at a local church. The leader of the group is older than them and is rather ‘happy-clappy’ but he comes across as good and well-meaning. Hazel, in her narration, speaks of him in a very disrespectful manner. He tells the group that he had testicular cancer but Hazel sneeringly calls it ‘ball cancer’ and disdainfully dismisses the struggle that he went through as a cancer survivor.
During a scene with the support group, one character, Isaac, tells the others that he has a form of cancer which will mean that both his eyes will have to be removed, leaving him blind. He appears to be positive about this however because he has a ‘smoking hot girlfriend’ by his side. When one of the group sessions finishes, Hazel and Gus talk outside while Isaac and his girlfriend can be seen passionately kissing in the background. During this, Isaac gropes his girlfriend’s breasts.
Gus often enjoys putting an unlit cigarette in his mouth. When she first sees this, Hazel is angry and tells him that he shouldn’t smoke because he should know better than to do something that is likely to give him cancer. He explains that he doesn’t light it as he takes the power away from the cigarette to do him harm. While the message here is that smoking is bad and can be harmful to your health, it may have the opposite effect of encouraging young people to smoke rather than deterring them.
Hazel talks about the time that she almost died when she was thirteen. Accompanying this narrative is a short scene of her in a hospital bed on oxygen support, drifting in and out of consciousness while her parents are with her. Her mother is terribly distressed but tells Hazel ‘You can let go, sweetie, don’t be afraid’. She then throws herself into the arms of Hazel’s father and they both sob together as Hazel watches them. This very real and raw emotion of parents losing their child could be very upsetting for young children, especially if a similar tragedy is happening in their own lives.
Before the surgery to remove his eye (which is his second operation and therefore the one that will leave him blind), Isaac’s girlfriend breaks up with him due to being unable to cope with what he is facing. While his anger and upset is understandable, his lustful advances and preoccupation with her looks do not make the relationship seem particularly meaningful. In realistic terms, the audience may recognise that she is young and it is understandable that she may not know how to deal with Isaac’s situation. However, due to his anger, Isaac wishes to break something and Gus allows him to break some of his belongings that are potentially sentimental. This is done during a comical scene but the message that the most appropriate reaction to a girl breaking up with a boy is for him to become violent and angry may not be a good one to put across to teenagers.
Later in the movie, while Isaac is still angry with the break up, Gus encourages him to throw eggs at his ex-girlfriend’s car. He does this with great pleasure and this again is meant to be a comical scene. While Isaac is throwing the eggs, the girl’s mother comes out of her house and Gus tells her that she should go back into the house because they won’t stop until Isaac is finished and she dutifully goes back inside her house (there is no indication that she calls the police or does anything to stop them from vandalising her daughter’s car). Young girls may be perturbed by these scenes as the character has done nothing to warrant this aggression as Isaac admits that he hasn’t heard from her since the break up. Isaac’s behaviour verges on misogyny and Gus and Hazel’s approval does little to condemn this type of mind-set. Again, there is a bad message here that this attitude of disrespect and entitlement is acceptable and should be encouraged.
After Hazel and Gus kiss for the first time, they consummate their relationship in a hotel room while they are on holiday. Hazel sits on top of Gus and, as they kiss, they begin to remove each others’ clothes. From the back, Hazel is seen to remove her bra, showing her bare back, and Gus puts his hands on her breasts. This level of intimacy would be more suited to two adult characters as it is very matter of fact and there is no innocence or nervousness from either character; it is taken for granted that despite their ages, sex is what happens in all relationships. Parents may not like the notion that even in teenage years, girls and boys are expected to have sex when in a relationship, regardless of how long they have known each other.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
‘The Fault In Our Stars’ is an also-ran teen romance that struggles to push the boundaries that its subject matter promises to address. With many poor messages for teenagers, parents may wish to discuss them with their children if they feel it necessary to ensure that they are happy with what they are watching. In addition we feel that this movie is likely to be too slow and too upsetting for younger children and therefore we would not recommend this movie for kids under the age of 12.
- Violence: 0/5
- Emotional Distress: 3/5 (due to the central premise being childhood and teenage cancer (particularly terminal cases), emotional distress is somewhat inevitable. However, there are few scenes which emphasise this protractedly and therefore most of the audience should be able to cope with the movie as a whole. An established character is informed that they only have a few weeks to live and they die (off-screen). This happens towards the end of the movie and, because of the blasé attitude that the movie has had up until this point, it may take some viewers by surprise and be quite upsetting for them)
- Fear Factor: 0/5
- Sexual Content: 4/5
- Bad Language: 3/5 (frequent mild to moderate cursing and blasphemy, one strong word is used in anger. One character says that they are ‘still a virgin’ and there is one mention of herpes as a joke)
- Dialogue: 3/5 (constant references to cancer which is often terminal. Death at a young age is skirted around but is still an unavoidable subject)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of love, friendship, romance, loss, terminal cancer, the effect that terminal illness can have on families, the devastation that is left after a death and adversity bringing people together.
Words by Laura Record