By Alexia Evripidou
The highly popular novel The Fault in our Stars for young adults by hospital chaplain-turned-author John Green is a bona fide phenomenon. Selling more than 10 million copies in print and boasting a passionate fan base, it could not be more of a contrast to the Twilight saga, aimed at the same market, if it tried. With only love and youthful good looks in common, Fault in our Stars portrays the grim reality for certain youths, where death is very much a realistic end of the road, as opposed to the beginning of a super powered eternal life.
Directed by Josh Boone, right away the lead character in the film lets you know this is not going to be an ordinary story. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a brilliant, nerdy and beautiful 16-year-old who happens to have terminal cancer that started in her thyroid and spread to her lungs. With an oxygen tank as a constant companion and little tubes connected to her nose, Hazel reluctantly attends a cancer support group, where she meets the ‘go getting, anything is possible’ Augustus (Ansel Elgort), aka Gus. With his prosthetic leg to remind him of his cancer remission, his puppy dog good looks and ever positive attitude, the couple, ultimately fall in love.
Making a romantic drama out of a life threatening disease, especially the ‘big C’, is never going to be easy. The only real options available to the audience are either gut wrenching tears, when a character dies or relief when a cure has been found; neither is peachy. Throw in a bunch of sweet teenagers with months left to live, and you have me, suffering a tear induced melt down in the cinema.
Reports claim that there have been preview screenings at which audiences have apparently paraded out of the cinema, eyes streaming. Once again, that would have been me, had I not had to watch it. Not a fan of tear jerker movies per se, or dramas, ironically I have to give a huge thumbs-up to this beautifully touching movie.
An intelligent, sweet and superbly written film, Fault in our Stars pulls deeply at the heart strings. At times, I almost wished vampires would fly in and save the day. But that is exactly what the film is not about; escapism. As Hazel reminds Gus, “pain is meant to be felt”.
Fault in our Stars incorporates dry humour and clever lines to counterbalance the subject matter. It is an emotional roller coaster that you may not necessarily be glad you decided to ride, but one which will bring your feet firmly back on the ground. On one hand, it is a refreshingly open and current story line, on the other, it hurts. Much of what Hollywood pumps out can be mindless and shallow, this film reflects the latest trend for ‘real’, well, that is Hollywood’s sparkly version of real, where terminally sick people still look super while going through chemo treatments.
With fine performances by all, it is more than just the protagonists that we relate to, we also witness the journey of Hazel’s unconditionally supportive and pained parents played by Laura Dern and True Blood’s Sam Trammell. A darker and adequately unsavoury character comes in the form of Hazel’s most beloved writer (William Dafoe) who leaves the youths crestfallen with his bitterness.
At first, the film is laced liberally with one liner medical jokes for example, the ‘cancer perks’, such as a trips to Disneyland and Amsterdam or visiting Anne Frank’s house. Also, there is a brilliant scene where the young lovers are flirtatiously discussing a book… while recently heart broken Isaac smashes Gus’ basketball trophies. It’s funny and it works. These humourous tones help keep the film less sentimental. However, it deepens as it progresses but still attempts to keep a resilient and cheeky wellbeing.
Full of beautifully written lines, it was a pleasure to listen to the dialogue. Such as Gus’ explanation for holding an unlit cigarette in his mouth; “It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” Or the cryptic explanation “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities”.
Watching teenagers plan lovers’ and friends’ eulogies while waiting for their own untimely demise is brutal. But somehow, irrespective of this devastating story line, the film manages to find love, ample humour and tenderness. It’s a must see, especially in today’s climate where priorities for most, have been tested.
DIRECTED BY Josh Boone
STARRING Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
USA 2014 126mins