Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

I will preface this movie review by confessing that I read the novel of the same name when it was originally published and absolutely loved it. Like most unabashed bookworms watching film adaptations of favorite books, I went into this film both hopeful and doubtful that they could come close to capturing on film the profound beauty I found in the book’s pages, but let me tell all ye of little faith like me, do not be fearful my children, for The Fault in Our Stars (the movie) is as phenomenally moving, heartbreaking and beautiful as the book.

For all those of you who did not read John Green’s novel, The Fault in Our Stars focuses on the epic love story of one Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters; and I mean epic, think Romeo and Juliet, Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, or Tony and Maria in West Side Story. Hazel Grace is your typical teenager, except for the fact that she has cancer; initially thyroid cancer it has now localized in her lungs and the only thing keeping her alive is an experimental drug and her trusty oxygen tank and breathing tube which she carries everywhere. Hazel reluctantly attends a cancer support group at her mother and doctor’s request, which is where she meets Augustus (Gus), whom despite having lost his leg to the illness is now cancer free, quite cheeky and there to support his friend Isaac.

Despite her initial wariness, Hazel cannot resist Gus’ winsome charm and impish grin, plus he calls her beautiful (how could you not cave?), and that as they say is history as the two become first friends and confidants and then ultimately fall in love (Hazel later saying “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”; aww, sniff, sniff). The two share laughs, tales of their cancer and bond over Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, which Gus reads. Equally flummoxed and obsessively curious about the book’s lack of ending, Gus reaches out on Hazel's behalf to the reclusive author living in Amsterdam and after further communication she receives a passing invitation to visit him in person to get her much desired answers. Thanks to Gus’ determination and an unredeemed final wish, the two find a way despite some health-related obstacles to make the trip.

The trip proves a mixed bag of goods for Hazel and Gus; from the disappointment of a poisonous meeting with an idol that proves to be no more than a drunken lout, to the pure joy and magic of fully embracing their love despite all its uncertainties, to the unexpected news that breaks their (and our) hearts but also brings them even closer together and ready to face life’s incertitude and unfairness. Braver and wiser than most adults twice their age, our star-crossed lovers prove the immutable fact that love can’t always conquer all, but it can survive all and that a life doesn’t have to be big in accomplishments or long in years to be great.

OMG…this was such a great film and I loved everything about it, except for the hot mess I looked like as I walked out of the theater. I loved that the filmmakers stayed so true to the book, I loved the casting, and I loved the soundtrack. Sadly, as I said I was a snot-nosed, blotchy-faced, red-eyed mess for the whole last third of the movie; I’m sure I scared a couple moviegoers as I walked out of the darkened theater. My only consolation is that I managed out of sheer will power to suppress my sobs during the worst of it and that everyone around me was in the same boat, if not worse.

The acting by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, as Hazel Grace and Gus, respectively, was pure brilliance. They offered the perfect balance of light-hearted optimism and witty banter, with all the sage wisdom you’d expect from individuals that have faced death in the past and are all the braver, eloquent and profound because of it. In Hazel, Woodley conveys the wholesome innocence and simple beauty of a girl next door while also imbuing the performance with equal measures of strength and vulnerability. I had seen Woodley before in the film The Descendants with George Clooney, so her acting chops weren’t as much of a discovery to me as Elgort’s. He was so charismatic and funny and sweet, that I can honestly say from the aww’s! coming from the teenage girls around me in the theater – and my own – I think moviegoers fell under his spell as deeply as Hazel; and while the light romantic scenes were charming, it was his acting in the more poignant and tear-jerking moments where his performance shined with true integrity.

The Fault in Our Stars is this youngest generation’s Love Story (but so much better); a tale of love and woe that touches hearts and minds no matter the age.