Have you ever tried crying surreptitiously on an airplane? It’s a very strange experience, perhaps doubly so as a man when so much of our society puts a premium on men “being strong” (crying in public is a definite no-no). I was always a bit weepy as a child, particularly where movies were concerned, and as a boy I was teased mercilessly for it. I worked hard on suppressing that behavior, until I got to the point where almost nothing could make me cry; eventually, someone who was well and truly pissed with me called me “Ice man” for my lack of affect or reaction (not in a kind way, nor as a reference to young Val Kilmer… which might have been kind?). I’ve definitely reached a happier emotionally demonstrative balance, but this balance has given me the questionable pleasure of feeling awkward, wiping away my tears while the woman sitting next to me (watching the same movie) was completely dry-eyed. Oh well. All of which was a round-about way of saying that The Fault In Our Stars (the movie, not the book which I haven’t yet read) made me cry.
The movie (and presumably the book) is about a teenaged woman who has survived a bout with cancer and come out with less than half the lung capacity she should have, the specter of cancer returning in the near future, and a tendency for her lungs to occasionally fill with fluid without warning. She’s understandably less than enthused with life around her. The story, however, focuses on her budding relationship with a boy who is also a cancer survivor, one who has escaped mostly unscathed. Mostly.
Ok, look, I don’t want to spoil anything more for those of you who hate spoilers. I’ll leave that for after the break. Suffice to say, if you have loved ones who’ve gone through cancer (or died to cancer, or saw their loved ones go through cancer), you might find this movie a bit emotional. There are other reasons for it to be both good and sad, like watching teenagers trying to deal with imminent mortality, but I invite you to find out on your own. And as I mentioned above, maybe it will do nothing for you. The lady sitting next to me certainly didn’t seem very effected.
Most of the people I know who’ve died to cancer were middle-aged at least. Both of my parents have had cancer scares (and survived the relevant treatment), my step-father has had and survived cancer, one of my grandfathers died following a bout with cancer (not really sure what got him in the end), and the list could go on… but as sad as any of their deaths might have been (and will be), they had all lead fairly full lives before that point. Seeing teenagers put in that position (and with worse chances than most people I’ve known have had) is grueling and painful in a very particular way. They’re also just teenagers, and I feel like their choices reflect that particularly well.
I was impressed by both of the lead actors, Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Ansel Elgort as Gus. Our narrator Hazel was a convincingly nihilistic and embittered teenager, yet she was strong despite being scarred by her experiences with cancer. Watching her grow and change was fascinating. Gus, on the other hand, was probably the most arrogant I’ve seen a character be while still being likable, and he somehow impressed me and made me want to punch him in turn. His simultaneous selflessness and selfishness felt very human. The interplay between the two of them was both charming and tragic. If I could somehow bottle how they made me feel and inject it into my own stories, I would.
There was one particular moment that left me feeling a little out of place or confused (people applauding a kiss? really? that just felt awkward), but on the whole the movie held together well. It never seemed like it was making things needlessly happier, which seems like an odd compliment when I think about it, but I’ll stick by that. While it isn’t the saddest that it could possibly be, the story still feels real enough that it doesn’t feel like the characters’ suffering has been glossed over in the course of making the movie.
One thing that was quite noticeable was the lack of black (or heck, non-white) characters. I’ve been noticing this more and more recently, undoubtedly a symptom of having been made a aware of it rather than of it being a new problem. Maybe it makes sense in context (there are no black people wherever the main characters live? improbable), but it does leave me thinking about the exclusion which seems to be such a feature of Hollywood movies. Who the hell decides that it doesn’t make sense to have black people somewhere? Who decides that the black people who do show up should mostly fit a very narrow set of stereotypes? It’s ridiculous.
Ok, so that last bit was less about The Fault In Our Stars and more about movies in general. The Fault In Our Stars really was quite good, despite a fairly typical failing, and I would recommend it if you’re in the mood for a sad, happy, and moving film. Plus, it made good additional fodder for writing a teenaged female narrator, so that’s another good bonus.