Monday, June 9, 2014

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The movie adaptation of John Green's blockbuster novel of the same name, will leave theatre-goers and fans of The Fault In Our Stars, weepy but overall, very satisfied. Shailene Woodley stars as Hazel Grace Lancaster and Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters, two star-crossed teens who both have cancer and who meet at a cancer support group. Dispensing with conventional views about young people with cancer, they are determined to live and love despite the life they've been handed. When Gus reads a novel, The Imperial Affliction, that Hazel gives him, he becomes determined to learn what really happened to the characters after the book's hanging ending. Hazel is shocked to learn that Gus's emails to the author, Peter Van Houten are returned and they are invited to come to Amsterdam to meet him and to talk about the book.

During the time that they have read the novel, made arrangements to travel to Amsterdam and are in the midst of supporting their friend, Isaac who loses both his remaining eye to cancer and his girlfriend, Gus finds himself falling in love with Hazel. But Hazel doesn't want Gus to love her because she feels she is like a grenade, about to explode and obliterate everyone's life with her eventual death. All this does not matter to Gus, who believes he is destined to live a remarkable life. However, a remarkable life will not be Gus's destiny. The trip to Amsterdam while not providing the answers they were hoping for, results in Hazel and Gus falling in love. Hazel begins to realize that this is the only life they get and they have to make the most of it, whatever it might be.

Shailene Woodley gives an emotionally riveting performance as Hazel and is well supported by Elgort as Gus, by Laura Dern as Frannie and Sam Trammell as Michael, Hazel's warm, supportive parents. But each of these actor's performances are also exceptional. The chemistry between Woodley and Elgort is surprisingly effective; their relationships comes across as warm, funny and romantic - very believable. But this movie also manages to capture some of the heartbreak, the terror and the pain that goes with cancer. Just as an example, when Hazel receives an email and calls her mother, her mom tears into her bedroom, fearing the worst. Her response seems over the top, but it's not for the parent of a child, chronically and terminally ill.

Fans of the novel will recognize that for the most part, the movie is true to the novel. The film was shot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Amsterdam. Anne Frank's house was not used for the scenes in the house, only the entrance was used.

The only part of this movie I felt bordered on ridiculous was the portrayal of a cancer therapy group, in particular one that addressed spirituality. In The Fault in Our Stars, the cancer group Hazel and Gus attend is run in a Protestant church by a thirty-something man, who plays the guitar and who has hooked a rug of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - a solely Catholic image used to portray the mercy of God. The cancer support counselor was made to look like an absolute idiot, who has nothing to offer these young people, except some little ditties about resting in the heart of Jesus. Behind all of this is the hint of the senselessness (and hopelessness) of cancer, the suffering and perhaps even prayer. There is no magical theological explanation about the why of cancer; why some get it and live, why others get it and die, or why some never get it at all. It happens, just like bad things happen to good people, and we make the best of them. We help each other along that journey. And yes, we might also pray - a fact that even the National Cancer Institute recognizes. The NCI on its website indicates that studies show that patients whose spiritual issues are addressed either by their doctors or by support groups do better.

Once the movie moved past this point, it was on more solid ground exploring how young people struggle to cope with a serious illness like cancer, how they are viewed by others and how those around those around them, parents and friends, try to come to terms with illness in young lives. For example, Isaac's girlfriend dumps him before his eye surgery because she can't cope with him going blind, ignoring how traumatizing this might be for Isaac. This sort of insensitivity is common in many events in life, whether it be women suffering from a miscarriage or the loss of a child. It's that continual worry that something terrible is about to happen all over again.

Overall The Fault In Our Stars is a touching movie that will make viewers think a bit more deeply about the reality of young people who suffer from chronic health issues and how we often make illness a barrier to one another. The stellar performance by Woodley in particular, will prod those who haven't yet read the novel, to do so.

Below is the trailer for the movie:

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