Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Perhaps ‘okay’ will be our ‘always’…

Leaving the parking-lot last night after picking up ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ from Redbox, my wife looks at me and says, “I don’t want to be depressed tonight”.  I understand the idea of not wanting to be depressed, but I just spent the money on a one day rental and you KNEW what movie we were getting so why are you telling me this now?  She says “I’m just warning you now, I may have to make fun of this movie to spare myself depression” and I shrugged and said “well, you know that Woodley forages for food and doesn’t wear deodorant and eats chalk or soap or rocks or something like that” and so I figured we were good; that we were safe.  Besides, my wife never cries.  The long running joke in our family is that I’m the wife since I’m the one who cries at every movie.  In fact, I refuse to sit next to my wife whenever we watch anything that has a reputation for making someone cry, because she’s always stone faced and ridicules me later for uncontrollable sobbing.

We got home, put kids to bed and settled into our respective places in the living room.  The movie started, the movie ended, and not a word was said by either of us throughout the entire film.  When it was over, my wife stood up, said “I don’t ever want to talk about that movie again” and walked upstairs to our bedroom.

She had reached her cinematic breaking point.

The funny thing about kids is that they really mess you up.  They change everything about your emotional makeup.  One day nothing bothers you and the next every little thing makes you well with tears.  It’s not always sadness.  It can be overwhelming happiness, but regardless, something about being a parent just changes you.  A film like ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, for a parent, is one of the hardest things to sit through, because it challenges everything you know about being a parent, everything you instinctively feel.  My children are my world, and the very idea of losing one of them, whether it be to cancer or something else entirely, nearly reduces me to a walking coma.  Watching this movie, I felt the weight of Augustus’s words, where he says (in voiceover) “I willed myself to imagine a world without us and what a worthless world that would be”, and he is so right. 

You watch this film and you want to reach out and hold and comfort and fix and, as the film so clearly points out, you can’t always do that.

For me, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ was misery porn, and I honestly can’t stomach why so many tote this as one of their favorite movies ever.  Instagram lights up with teenage acquaintance after teenage acquaintance dedicating their evenings to a box of tissues and this movie and I’m sitting there shaking my head now because I’ve seen it and they have no idea.  These teenagers look at this film about star crossed lovers and such undying emotion and such sweet chemistry and they think “if only I could find a love as deep” and yet they don’t see WHY this movie is so difficult, why it is so painful because they have no idea what it’s like to love someone that deeply.  They focus on the puppydog aspect of this love story, but the real love story here is in the loss that these kids have no idea about.  Give them ten years and a baby and they’ll never want to watch this movie again; ever.

And I’m not trying to knock the film at all, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws), it is a beautifully composed film and one that I truly liked; but I could never watch this again, and I fear that the abandon with which these flocks of teens are throwing their love towards it is misplaced because they simply lack the life experience to fully understand this movie.

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ tells a tragic love story, one of a young girl named Hazel who is dying of cancer who falls in love with a young boy named Augustus who is also dying of cancer.  They have come to terms with their illness and their life course, but they feed off each other in order to move forward, embracing their lives the best they can.  In the process, their families are trying to prepare themselves, live a normal life but a cautious and attentive one, and this process leaves scars on Hazel, who is consumed with the wonderment of what life will be like for her loved ones after she is gone.  She is filled with an internal guilt over leaving her family behind and is plagued by a memory of when she was thirteen, watching her mother cry at her side while in the hospital.  The weight of her own inevitability is crushing down on Hazel, but Augustus gives her room to breathe.

The film opens with the pretense that this will be that honest portrayal of a life in decay; that it will avoid the stereotypical Hollywood candy coating, but it is in this statement that the film finds its biggest flaw.  This is one of those strange films that singlehandedly avoids and embraces the very same clichés.  It handles the morose topic and character development with such sophisticated nonchalance and naturalism and yet it turns around and exploits it for cheap tears.  Scenes like the pre-funeral or the visit to the Anne Frank house or that ill constructed final voiceover feel so manipulative and unnecessary when the remainder of the film was SO EFFECTIVE already. 

We didn’t need to be told to cry; we were already doing it.

But, despite these moments of manipulation, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ succeeds mostly because the film is anchored by two tremendous performances.  Both Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are so natural, so complex and so devoted to these characters that you feel them reach right into your heart.  Their chemistry is uncanny, and their performances so rich with honesty and naturalism that I feel as though they will forever be in my heart because of this.  Not a false note, not ONE.  I believed them every single step of the way.  Laura Dern gives a heartbreaking performance as Hazel’s mother, and Nat Wolff offers some nicely played comedic support.  I felt that Willem Dafoe’s character was a misstep for the film, and that Sam Trammell’s hushed voice gave him a creepy air that made me uncomfortable (and, for the father or a cancer patient, he had no depth), but they aren’t really important here.

It’s not perfect, and it’s crushing emotionally, but I can’t say that ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is a bad movie.  It’s hard to judge this movie.  I fail to understand why anyone wants to be entertained by dying children, but I can’t deny that the film packs a powerful punch.  I just don’t think I want to be punched like this again.

Still, I'd give this a rather easy B+.  It earned it.  If there is a cinematic God watching right now, Woodley will be an Oscar nominee for this, and Elgort should honestly be there alongside her, but he hasn't a shot in hell.


  1. I did not know much about this film because the promos play it as a soppy teen story disregarding the depth you discuss here. It reminds me of The Notebook. That film only showed the 2 young actors and their love which held nothing for me. I finally saw this film this year and found to my delight, the true stars were James Garner and Gena Rowlands and brought more depth than I realized. It seems this movie is similar in that way. Hug your children every day. I have a dear friend who lost her son at 9 months to SIDS. It is horrible and there are no other words to say

    1. It has sappy elements, but it is far more grounded than that, and it approaches most scenes from a sense of realistic awareness. It does have those horribly cliched moments (the aforementioned pre-funeral and the whole kiss at the Anne Frank house scene) but overall there is enough here to make it a notch above most in this genre.

      And I'm not exaggerating when I say that Woodley and Elgort are utter perfection here.

  2. That sucks to hear Sam Trammell isn't very good. I loved him on True Blood. My sister in law swears by this book (but she has awful taste 90% of the time) but I'm still kind of intrigued by the movie. I may rent it. I was afraid I'd get My Sister's Keeper vibes from it. That movie made some awful choices.

    1. This was far better than My Sister's Keeper...but have children so I can't warn you is awful.

      I recommend it as a good movie with really, REALLY good performances...but from an entertainment perspective, I just can't.

  3. Glad you liked this one too. The leads were very good, and I'd support a Woodley Oscar campaign.

    Just peeked at your ballot on the AW forums. Looks like Ed Sheeran might win a Fisti. ;) And you've seen Ida, Fury, and Gone Girl! I hope Shia LaBeouf at least lands in your top 12. He might be my new supporting winner, though I'm torn between him, Gandolfini and Mendelsohn. And Agata Kulesza! Really hope she hangs on for a nod. Also, I like that you actually put Rosamund Pike in supporting, though I disagree with that placement completely. :P

    1. LOL...I've been so backed up this weekend, cramming films in and doing 'housework'...yuck...but I plan on not only reviewing Gone Girl but devoting an entire post to defending my Supporting placement.

      Now watch me eventually switch her to Lead...

  4. One of the things that really struck me in this film was Hazel's parents. You expect the relationship between her and Gus to be the main focus, but the attention they gave to parenting in this position seemed really well done to me. Trammel doesn't have as much to do as Dern, but the moment that hit me hard was when he hugs Hazel at the airport as if he seriously questioned if he'd ever see his daughter alive again.

    I guess I'm in the in between stage here, being older than the "target" teen audience, but not yet at the parenting stage. I certainly was very emotional, but didn't necessarily feel manipulated. They laid it on thick maybe. I also wouldn't romanticize Hazel & Gus's relationship, but I think it's an interesting love story.

    1. I may have generalized a tad here, mostly because of all the teenagers I know who have been swooning all over this.

      I think the fact that the father didn't go to Amsterdam with his daughter struck me as foolish, because if I knew it was dangerous to send her and that she may not come home, I would have been on that plane with her. What kind of devastation to have your daughter die overseas when you could have been by her side?