Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Fault in Our Stars

In what could be a conceptual exercise in how to make a teen romance  by pulling out all the "Awws!" and "Oh Nos!" and still manage a solid and mostly believable story, here is a star-crossed tale that is compelling with heart, energy and intrigue.

"The Fault in Our Stars", based on the novel by John Green, highlights the chemistry between Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) as two lovers.

Hazel (but of course) is direct, secretly spunky and sensitive. Augustus is bold, full of fun, reckless and almost Byronic with his sienna curls and alabaster skin. His muscled body speaks of the athlete, but not the overbearing jock.

There is a wrench in these works however.

They both have cancer.

The pulse of the film is that despite this obstacle between them, the disease is not a melodramatic curse that stands alone, but instead an incidental happenstance that pulls them together. Nor is cancer a malignance or a poison, but only a mere hinderance, a troublesome and meddling glue that they both share.

Augustus and Hazel meet in a support group known for its larger-than-life Jesus carpet and soon they are both at it, sharing irreverence with a kindred twinkle in the eye.

Augustus is the initiator, driving with abandon and carrying an unlit cigarette between his teeth. With his sweet sugary smirk that would be arrogant, were he not so adorable and forthright in his Hardy Boys era hijinks. (I strip this cigarette of its power to kill me, he says.)  Augustus is kind of a Kiddie Kerouac--- he's a bad boy without really Being Bad.

The aura is all that matters.

Hazel is precocious, pensive and spiritually wild. She knows literature, quantum physics and the surrealist Rene Magritte. One gets the feeling that her oxygen tank is full of quotations and esoteric studies.

Hazel is starstruck by the offhand brawn and devil-may-care sparkle of her paramour. Of course, we know right away that she'll use up a little more of her tank than usual in no time.

The complementary valentines can do no wrong, seeming to exist in a coloring book suburbia where there is no discontent, no domestic tension, or any iconoclastic drawing outside the lines.

Augustus and Hazel experience very little parental tension. Ever.

Despite this eerie weirdness that Wes Craven has made a horror career out of, the turmoil never ceases to lose its easy, almost charmed compulsion.

Of course, there are those last surprises that we can see coming a mile away, as if on cue : The Romantic Dinner, an "edgy" picnic along a skeleton-shaped park, and last but not least, the glib and sarcastic sidekick, Isaac (played well by Nat Wolff known for his troubled and annoying character roles) .

But it is  the smooth acting that pulls it all together making the obvious heart strings pulled almost secondary to charisma.

The ubiquitous Willem Dafoe does predictably well as a sour-drunk author Van Houten, who is not all that sour in the end. Even if we can sense the adolescent Albee in him well before he swigs, Dafoe and Woodley have enough emotive juice to make it almost new between them.

The final leap of "The Fault in Our Stars is that it does its story with such deliberation in spirit and character that we cease to count the cliches. These are characters almost without the haunt of Sickness, in keeping with smartphones and a well informed cellular knowledge of the body.

As a 21st century "A Little Romance", "The Fault in Our Stars" beguiles in spite of itself and its moments of gasping convention make a creative experiment that both catalogs and pays tribute to those cinematic loves of the past.

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