Okay, so I’m a few weeks late to the furore that surrounded the some-would-say surprising success of this beautifully tragic film from Josh Boone. I caught this only last night as part of a double-header with Tammy, the McCarthy comedy, and the very pretty young thing giving me my tickets couldn’t help but remark that I was going to laugh and then cry (I hope then that she noticed what order I was seeing them in).
As it happens, I didn’t do that much of either, but on reflection, I did have more laughs. The Fault In Our Stars is an adaptation from John Green’s best selling book, that deals with the highly emotive and heart-breaking subject of the untimely death of teenagers struck with cancer. His story concentrates on Hazel (Grace) Lancaster played here by Shailene Woodley and her relationship with a young man, Augustus (Ansel Elgort) at a time in their short lives where, even without the baggage of a terminal disease, love is already a minefield of hormone square-dancing.
Encouraged by her mother (Laura Dern) to join a support network, as she has been spending too much time with her head in one particular book, Hazel reluctantly agrees, though inwardly questions the point of the group. Her mother remains enthusiastic, however, so Hazel relents and attends the event at the local church and at first Hazel seems right in her assumption that this group of young adults do not really have anything to offer her in the way of comfort. That is until a confident and forward young man makes her acqaintance and refuses to be swayed by her standoff-ish attempts to keep him at arms length. And so begins a friendship that will become one of the most important things in both of their young lives.
Unless you have been living under that rock for the past few weeks, you cannot have failed to be aware about just how much of an emotional trial this is for the audience. I had heard of whole cinemas being flooded by the unbridled sobbing, from both women and men, in reaction to events played out on screen. And after witnessing the film first hand, I can indeed see why the fim would have such a momentous effect on audiences. By all accounts (having not read the book), the film stays very close to the text in its telling and the story of falling in love, in spite of insurmountable odds, the battle not to and the overbearing harbinger of doom that threatens to cast a shadow over everything is an emotional rollercoaster rarely witnessed with this kind of care and attention.
The performances from Woodley and Elgort are very watchable. Woodley in particular absolutely shines in the role of Hazel, whose fight with her disease has made her the young women she has become when we meet her. She is a rounded, determined individual with a respect for life that only those with so little of it remaining can really begin to understand. Reflecting the cancer monkey on her back, she is often immersed in her own problems, occasionally withdrawn, as we would expect, but as potential angels go, she is as good an example as any you may deem as deserving. Elgort’s Augustus is also a great performance, all ‘nothing to lose’ bravado from a young man that just wants to be remembered. He too is focused, but caring and thoughtful, aching for love in the time he has left and on meeting Hazel, is as happy as its possible to be given their own dreadfully painful circumstances.
Given the subject matter and the tales of uncontrollable fits and outbursts of blubbering from audiences everywhere, the uninitiated may imagine that there is nothing positive for them here, but they would be wrong as like the book, the movie shares all of the joy that it means to be alive despite the torment that these kids are experiencing. Yes, if you are of an emotional bent, then you will need to bring tissues with you, as you will probably crack by then end. Our screening was only half full, but the sniffles and tears were very noticeable from the audience of mostly women and teenaged girls present.
In all, a supremely delivered life-affirming tragedy, tinged with moments of delight that mean so much more in the circumstances. If anything, it will remind you of how lucky you are (if you are) to be healthy, able to love and be loved by others. Excellent and awful film-making, but for very different reasons.