A tear jerking twist on the young adult trend, The Fault in our Stars, directed by Josh Boone, is a love story which takes place in horrible circumstances. Based on the novel by acclaimed novelist John Green, the film stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a cynical sixteen year old suffering from terminal thyroid cancer. After reluctantly attending a support group in order to please her parents, she meets and subsequently begins a relationship with teenage Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Engort, who is recovering from bone cancer after having his leg amputated. The same themes are explored as your ordinary teen romantic comedy, but with an underlying sadness as a black cloud looms over the star crossed lovers.
The girl-meets-boy element of the plot stays very much within our expectations, with subtle glances, long awaited text messages, the awkward meeting of the parents and terrible dialogue. Comic book-esque speech bubbles are used to represent the iMessages exchanged in an attempt to appear fresh and modern, but I felt it left it looking a little Nickelodeon. John Green wrote his book through Hazel’s perspective and her character is very well written. She is complex, funny, and translates credibly on screen as a sympathetic protagonist. Her narration provides a fascinating insight into her thoughts as she battles her demons. Augustus on the other hand is designed to be arrogant and cocky on first impression, before melting hearts with his profound wit and charm. Personally, I found him irritating, immature and his sense of humour was painfully out of date.
Hazel and Augustus share an interest in a fictional book called An Imperial Affliction by mysterious author Peter van Houten, as they can both identify strongly with his lead. This provides an interesting subplot where they seek out van Houten, who lives in Amsterdam in recluse, in search of answers to some unfinished questions. The city serves as a beautiful backdrop as the couple enjoy a weekend adventure to track down their inspiration. Willem Dafoe portrays the alcoholic writer and gives a shockingly strong performance, as his warped outlook on life highlights the harsh realities of Hazel’s grim situation.
The film is at its most powerful though when dealing with the Lancaster family dynamic, and scenes between mother and daughter are touching, despite the score being heavily engineered throughout to make audiences weep. Laura Dern puts in a highly experienced turn as her mother, trying to cope with the fact that her daughter will be taken away before her time. Woodley impresses and commands the film with ease, asserting herself as an actress in high demand off the back of her leading role in Divergent. Her performance alone makes the film worth seeing if you don’t mind having your heartstrings tugged to the point that they nearly break.
The young-adult genre has been in full flow of late after the global success stories of the Twilight series and more recently, the Hunger Games franchise. Stemming from another trilogy of novels, written by Veronica Roth, comes Divergent; a sci-school adventure drama which follows teenager Beatrice Prior in a dystopian American city. To maintain order and democracy in a post-apocalyptic environment, the human race are divided into five groups, each with different strengths, weaknesses and attributes. It is a system not without flaws and when citizens can’t be pigeonholed into a category, they are hunted and killed so as not to disturb the way of the new world. Directed by Neil Burger, the first is never boring, and does well to cram in a lot filling, laying the foundations for potentially more interesting future instalments.
The concept of the convoluted plot is intriguing yet completely unoriginal. It wildly blends genres and immediately becomes a lot like watching Katniss Everdeen enrolling for her first year at Hogwarts. Kate Winslet is the leader of the Erudite faction, and is the ice-queen pulling the strings, much like Jodie Foster’s role in Elysium last year. Despite the blindingly obvious comparisons, Divergent is a thoroughly entertaining watch. Highlights include the action sequences involving the Dauntless faction, an inter-railing squad of daredevils who make up the ‘brave’ category, are fun and far-fetched as they train-hop around without once buying a ticket to ride. I also liked the main character, who snappily reinvents herself as Tris. She is the latest in a long line of strong female figures in cinema and although her coming-of-age path becomes rather predictable, it is a pleasant stroll which requires very little head scratching. The futuristic set design is well presented and I enjoyed the virtual reality dream scenes which saw members of the faction take on their biggest fears.
Rising starlet Shailene Woodley leads the cast as Tris Prior and has come a long way since escaping the shadow of playing Marissa’s little sister in the OC. Her mix of courage and vulnerability make her easy to root for, and she is a clear stand out amongst an otherwise average cast. The romantic co-star, Theo James, nails the moody mysterious vibe but offers nothing we haven’t seen before, failing to conjure up any real sympathy towards his character Four’s murky upbringing. It is certainly different to see Kate Winslet take on a villainous role, and her screen presence is undeniable. I only wish she upped her game a notch or two as we know she is capable of. Instead, she epitomises the PG baddie and her dark side never gets past grey.
Divergent is a fine introduction to a promising series, set to be separated into four films, stretching the third book Allegiant into two films. This stands alone mostly as a necessary explanation chapter. Neil Burger has found the right tone of the genre from the off, and would relish the opportunity to take the series to the next level, though it’s been reported he is not. For a film with the tagline ‘what makes you different, makes you dangerous’, the narrative unfortunately takes a few safe options where it could have capitalised on risks. That being said, although I don’t fall into the young-adult target market category whatsoever, I am compelled to see how Shailene Woodley and her gutsy heroine will develop.