“The Fault in Our Stars” arrives in theaters tomorrow having already transformed itself from summer sleeper to expected blockbuster. The reviews have been very positive with a number of critics even admitting they were bawling at the end. That being said, when it really comes down to it, most reviewers will admit Josh Boone's direction leaves a lot to be desired. Still, the movie works. Why? The reasons are two fold.
First, Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley have genuine on screen chemistry. And, second, Woodley pretty much carries the movie. It's as simple as that. (In fact, it really may just be all Woodley here. She also had a fantastic bond with Theo James in “Divergent.”)
As for the movie itself, “Stars” is told from the direct point of view of Hazel, the teenage cancer patient played by Woodley. The film lives and breathes on her ability to have you connect with her unexpected romance with Gus, a cancer survivor portrayed by Elgort. Boone unfortunately does not have the deft hand that, say, Stephen Chbosky had with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” When “Fault” works it's directly because of Woodley's performance. And, yes, get ready for a lot of talk about awards consideration.
Of course, it's slightly early to be having these conversations in the first place. The majority of Oscar heavyweights won't hit the ground for at least another three months. What Woodley will have going for her is she's maybe a little past due after SAG and Oscar snubs for her fine work in “The Descendants,” her fast-rising star power that will help a “tiny” film like “Fault” open to over $35 million and, obviously, accolades for her performance. Moreover, if “Fault” can become a monster hit (let's just say $100 million-plus), it will only add more fuel to the awards season fire.
Is she in the category of “Foxcatcher's” Steve “he's almost a lock for a nod” Carell? No, not at all, but let's not immediately discredit her chances just because it's a “teen drama” and it's coming out in June. The Academy loves an ingenue and has rewarded one of Woodley's peers, Ms. Jennifer Lawrence, quite handsomely over the past four years.
Concurrently, another twentysomething actress popular with the tween set is also making some waves with her latest film. Yes, after finally escaping the “Twilight” franchise, Kristen Stewart has arguably received the best notices of her career for Olivier Assayas' “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The drama debuted as the last competition title at Cannes to a somewhat subdued reaction, but this pundit is actually a big fan. “Clouds” is a more deft and critical look at the global Hollywood machine than another Cannes entry, David Cronenberg's “Map to the Stars,” wants to be (or would have been 20 years ago).
Assayas' film doesn't take place in LA proper, but centers on a 40-ish actress (a fantastic Juliette Binoche) who is trying to keep her A-/B+ level Hollywood career going while still pursuing more European artistic endeavors. Stewart plays Valentine, her smarter-than-the-room assistant who finds herself inexplicably falling for her boss. Their relationship grows complex and contentious as they spend time in an isolated home in the mountains near Sils Maria. The purpose of their trip is for Binoche's character to rehearse a play she's going to appear in, but instead the experience enlightens Valentine to an emotional trap encircling her own life.
Stewart, who was also very good in the Sundance drama “Camp X-Ray” earlier this year, has never been more relaxed and confident on screen. Part of that is due to Assayas' superb screenplay and the rest of the credit has to go to Stewart, who appears to have relished playing the sort of character that has been a fixture in her own and, no doubt, her friends' worlds for years. Besides strong notices, Stewart raised eyebrows by topping Indiewire's Cannes Critics Poll in the supporting category, where she beat out highly regarded turns by Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) and Suzanne Clement (“Mommy”).
The biggest issue regarding Stewart's chances is the fact that IFC Films will be responsible for the film's US marketing campaign. The indie player has slotted “Clouds” with a Dec. 1 release date (right in the fire of awards season), but their Oscar and awards season history is dubious to say the least. They have landed a number of foreign language nominees, but never won the category. “Y Tu Mamá También,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “In the Loop” earned screenplay nods, but that's really it in the top categories. Granted, the studio has committed to a big push for Richard Linklater's already beloved “Boyhood,” but can they pull out two or three major nods for more than one movie in the same year?
The good news for both actresses is that by continuing to deliver strong work in challenging roles they are putting themselves on an awards season track. Having spoken to both Woodley and Stewart enough over the years, it's clearly not intentional in either case. They both seem to value the creative process more than the paparazzi spotlight. That being said, these are the sort of sparks that lead to a bigger fire down the road.
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