On most days, I’m completely immune from heart-twisting, tear-jerky movies. I look around me at people sobbing and think, “Now there’s somebody who doesn’t understand calculated emotional manipulation.”
I went to see “The Fault in Our Stars” knowing that it was based on an adolescent novel by John Green about two cancer-ridden teenagers in love. It sounded a little like “Love Story,” only way worse. Oh please.
Since emerging from with mascara streaks down my face, I’ve been trying to figure out how they did it. This captivating drama about star-crossed lovers turns on a simple truth: to die too soon is tragic, but those left behind have to find the strength to keep on living.
In addition to knowing his Shakespeare, Green knows how to weave an honest plot. All is not pretty. The cancer that plagues young Gus (Ansel Elgort) ended his hero-status as a high school basketball player and left him to deal with a prosthetic leg. Beautiful Hazel (Shailene Woodley) must drag around her albatross of an oxygen tank after her particular brand of cancer left her lungs incapacitated.
Gus and Hazel meet at a cancer support group. He sees her sitting there, resplendent in her beauty. The oxygen tubes in her nose don’t matter; he is transfixed. She notices him noticing her.
When the meeting’s over, and they have a chance to talk, they reach the point of no return in a matter of minutes. Regardless of whether or not they can admit it then, their destinies are forever intertwined. They are young and in love. Cancer doesn’t matter.
Their ability to embrace the future while acknowledging the lurking fear of it makes life a daring adventure. When Hazel shares “An Imperial Affliction,” her favorite novel, with Gus, he understands her exuberance for its message that “pain is meant to be felt.” Hazel has depth, and she wants answers to the conundrums the book poses.
Gus determines that they must try to meet the author Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), an irascible recluse of a drunk who lives in Amsterdam. Within a few days, Gus has exchanged emails with Houten and used his “Make a Wish” trip to take himself, Hazel, and her mother (Laura Dern) to Amsterdam. Hazel will meet Van Houten, and he will share with her the meaning of life.
The experience blends hard, harsh reality and blushing romanticism. Along with the characters, we hope for the best, knowing all the while that the worst will inevitably come. That’s part of being human, and that’s the fault in our stars.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language.