Better than okay
Prepare to cry into your popcorn while watching this swoon-worthy affair.
SOME love stories are mushier than other love stories. The big-screen adaptation of John Green’s best-selling YA book is one such example. The story takes shape in the midst of all kinds of lovey-dovey matters synonymous with teenage relationships – exchanges of saccharine-sweet text messages, a mutual reading list and sophomoric disdain for anything remotely institutional. Only it’s told within the context of Stage Four cancer.
The reality is The Fault In Our Stars is another manifestation of the youthful crowd’s fascination with a morbid love; the sort that gives literal meaning to the term “till death do us part”. Except in this case, the movie’s intended demographic isn’t even at that point in life where they’re contemplating marriage certificates.
Therein lies the biggest conundrum that could trip up this film. After all, it’s a story about two teenagers being mutually exclusive. And love is always reduced to figments of foolish infatuation at the hands of the young ones. The fact that it’s told in tandem with a message of mortality will draw faint comparisons to that other teen romance franchise about glittery vampires.
Or at least that’s the kind of impression most cynical adults would be under, assuming that they’re not familiar with the brilliance of Green’s book. Of course, that notion takes a 180-degree turn once audiences are introduced to Hazel Grace Lancaster, the film’s acerbic and witty 16-year-old terminally ill protagonist.
“I believe we have a choice in this world, about how to tell sad stories. On the one hand, you can sugarcoat it. Nothing is too messed up that can’t be fixed with a Peter Gabriel song. I like that version as much as the next girl does. It’s just not the truth,” Hazel reveals seconds into the movie.
Truth is, no amount of Peter Gabriel could fix that gut-wrenching feeling that the film evokes where death is likened to oblivion and love to falling asleep – slowly, then all at once.
Chances are you’re probably going to cry your eyeballs out in this swoon-worthy affair. Not surreptitiously weep or stifle a sob, but the kind of crying that leaves you with a blocked nose and raspy voice.
Sure, Fault’s melancholic disposition makes for a rather desolate watch at times. But you’ll feel good about being so mindlessly vulnerable once you leave the cinema. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, Divergent) takes on the lead role in this film that’s set in a circumscribed universe where the adolescent population is earth-shatteringly cerebral and society is segregated in two – those with a fatal illness and the unfortunate healthy ones.
Having survived a close call with thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel now spends her days spewing brainy insights about the life of cancer-stricken kids and re-reading The Imperial Affliction by the eccentric Peter Van Houten.
You can’t blame her really, as a mobile oxygen tank is her constant companion. At the suggestion of her idealistic mother, Hazel attends a support group headed by a man who survived – in our spunky heroine’s words – “cancer in his b*lls”. There, she meets chivalrous cancer peer Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who longs to live an extraordinary life and puts an unlit cigarette between his lips as a metaphoric gesture.
Elgort as Hazel’s dreamboat love interest is a stroke of casting genius. The 20-year-old actor is charming and unassuming as the self-confessed virgin who brings Hazel out for picnics and waits by her yard with a stalk of tulips. Heck, the boy ruins us guys’ market value when he whisks Hazel and her mother off to Amsterdam to meet her literary hero.
That said, the movie is not without its faults. The pace during the first half borders on the dreary. And true to teen flick convention, the adult characters are nothing more than gauzy caricatures whose sole role is to portray some aspect of required legality. However, Laura Dern and Sam Trammell make the most of their roles as Hazel’s wholesome parents.
Fault plays by a romanticised notion of love, life and innocence that feels incredibly surreal at times. But that doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still a pretty decent tale. And sometimes, being okay is just enough to make you fall head over heels.