Well, we’re wrapping things up as far as Back to School is concerned. A little over a month ago, I set out with a mission. I said that I would review 80 of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school and teen films ever made. I said it would be able to do it all in one week. Needless to say I was wrong. It’s actually taken me five weeks but the end is in sight and, as much as I’ve enjoyed doing this series, that’s probably for the best. After all, the back to school sales are over. The kids have already settled back into the school routine. Everyone’s looking forward to the winter break.
Add to that, it’s nearly October and that means that it’s nearly time for this site to start devoting itself to horror!
So, we have four more Back to School reviews to go and, keeping with the chronological nature of this series, they are all for films that were released in 2014!
Speaking of which, 2014 has been the year of Shailene Woodley. Much as how Jennifer Lawrence dominated 2012 by starring in The Hunger Games and winning an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, Woodley has proven herself to be both capable of carrying a franchise and starring in a serious film. Also, much like Jennifer Lawrence in 2012, Shailene has been the subject of several condescending posts over at AwardsDaily.com. And, as we all know, you haven’t arrived in this business until Sasha Stone talks down to you.
Shailene’s serious film of 2014 was The Fault In Our Stars, which is based on the excellent and heart-breaking novel by John Green. The book made me cry and cry. In fact, it made me cry so much that I wasn’t sure whether I would have any tears left over for the film. Don’t get me wrong. I knew the film would probably be good. Just on the basis of her excellent performances in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, I knew that Shailene Woodley was an ideal pick for the role of the Hazel, a sarcastic 16 year-old who has thyroid cancer and can’t go anywhere without her oxygen tank. But I wondered, knowing already what was going to happen, would the film still have as strong an effect on me as it would if I was going in with no knowledge as to what was waiting for me.
I really shouldn’t have even wondered. For that matter, I probably should not have worn mascara on the night that I saw the movie because, seriously, by the end of it, my face was a mess! The Fault In Our Stars is one of those films that has been specifically made to make you cry. And yes, it’s undeniably manipulative and I’ll even agree with those critics who have used the dreaded “schmaltz” label while describing the film but so what? In the end, the tears are earned. In the end, the film works.
And that’s largely due to Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel. While Ansel Elgort gives an okay performance as Augustus, the boy who has lost a leg to cancer and who Hazel loves, the film really does belong to Shailene. She gives a fierce performance, capturing both Hazel’s dark humor and, even more importantly, her independence and her inner strength. It’s the type of performance that more than justifies 2014 being the year of Shailene Woodley.
Probably one of the more critically divisive scenes in the film comes when Hazel and Augustus are taking a tour of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. (They’re in Amsterdam because they’re looking for Hazel’s favorite writer, a drunken recluse who is well-played by Willem DaFoe.) Over the course of the tour, Hazel has to climb several staircases and ladders and it’s not easy for her. However, Hazel never gives up and, at the end of the tour, she and Augustus share as kiss. And, of course, everyone else who was on the tour breaks out into applause. For many, I think this is the scene where the film says, “You can either take me as I am or you can leave the theater.” Yes, it is incredibly manipulative and yes, I do think it would have been just as effective without everyone else breaking out into applause. But, dammit, the scene works! You have grown to so much care about Hazel that the scene works. It also helps that, up until this point, the film has been so unsentimental about the horrible reality of cancer that the fact that you’re happy to finally see Hazel get that over-the-top moment of happiness. Hazel has earned it, the film has earned it, and so has Shailene Woodley.