by Bob Garver
June 9, 2014. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audience collectively cry as much as they did at my screening of “The Fault in Our Stars.” It should come as no surprise, really. The film is a love story about two teenagers with cancer. There are highs to be sure, but we know the lows are coming. Let’s just say that this won’t be one of those YA adaptations that gets a while series with the final book being split into two movies. And yet, even though we have a good idea what looms ahead, that doesn’t make it any less saddening.
The film is based on a YA (young adult) novel by John Green, one that I’ve heard of for once. I’m glad that kids are reading this hard-to-market book. It’s not that I object to “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games” per se, but I am tired of books and movies insisting that they’re the “next” in those lines. Of course, it would have been cool to think that some studio executive took a chance on such tragic subject matter as an original pitch, but I guess some publishing executive took on that challenge.
The film stars Shailene Woodley as Hazel, our 17-year-old heroine who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 13. She was very close to death at one point, but thanks to some experimental medicine is now relatively better. “Relatively” meaning that she’s constantly bedridden and is hooked up to an oxygen tank at all times, but at least she isn’t being called to walk into the light. Woodley was terrific in “The Descendants,: my favorite movie of 2011, and still this is by far her best performance.
Hazel is dragged to a support group by her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell, who steal a lot of scenes in this movie). There she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), a fellow survivor who is missing part of his leg. The two start a cute friendship that is destined to turn into a passionate romance. Their date scenes are enjoyable enough, though about what you’d expect. They share wisdom, debate philosophies and engage in some self-deprecating humor. It’s typical romantic comedy stuff in a movie that will not end as a romantic comedy.
Things get steamy when Gus performs an act of kindness for Hazel and takes her to Amsterdam. There they are drawn together closer than ever by graceful champagne, cultured food and their admiration followed by disillusionment with author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), a character we can tell we’re not going to like the second we lay eyes on him. They visit the Anne Frank house, where they share a romantic moment in a frankly inappropriate setting. They do so during a portion of their audio tour where an optimistic Anne talks about the beauty of the world, but it’s still weird.
Then comes the sad part. There’s no sugar-coating it – their deterioration affects us. Even though we’ve only spent a short time with these characters, we’ve come to love them. Not unlike their relationship with each other really. In a move of bad taste, the managers of my theater took this opportunity to pump dust and onions through the ventilation system during these scenes. At least I assume they were, based on my physical reaction.
“The Fault in Our Stars” is the next great American weepie. It isn’t a depressing movie so much as a highly emotional one. There is something comforting about being in a theater or room full of people going through this rocky ride of emotions alongside you. It’s like that Elton John song where we’re all united by sad songs (I forget it’s title). And make no mistake, there will be large groups of people watching this film together for quite a while.
Two and a half stars out of five.