The Fault in Our Stars: Not Your Average Tragic Teen Romance
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
I’m not going to lie, I am not usually a fan of teen dramas and I did not read the book by John Green on which the new box office smash, The Fault in Our Stars was based. I went with a friend who read the book and thought it was better, but that’s pretty much the general consensus for most books adapted into films. That being said, I loved this film. In fact the only film I can think of that one upped the novel was Forrest Gump. Wait there’s also the Wizard of Oz, but we’re getting off topic…
The Fault in Our Stars is about two teens afflicted by cancer, one terminal and the other who is in remission. The other two major movies that I can think of that follow a similar premise are 1970’s Love Story, which induces feelings of rage within me, and 2002’s A Walk to Remember, which was the movie every girl saw when I was in middle school.
The issue I had with Love Story is largely a generational thing. I thought Ryan O’Neal’s character was a complete and total whiny asshole and that Ali MacGraw deserved better. The big “romantic scene” where she says “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” is a load of bologna. I’m sorry but he messed up and he better damn well apologize. I mean he almost beat the ever loving you know what out of her for trying to patch up the relationship between him and his father. Then the other bothersome sexist issue is that the doctor reveals MacGraw’s diagnosis to O’Neal, rather than telling her the news first.
I liked A Walk to Remember when I was 12 and I still like it today. Mandy Moore’s character is a good girl who doesn’t care what other people think about her, in spite of getting harassed and bullied on a regular basis. Meanwhile the bad boy (Shane West) falls for her and then you find out she has cancer. While my feelings about these films are as different as night and day they both have very similar tropes. Two people from two different walks of life meet, she influences him to be a better man, she tries to distance herself from him when she gets sick, she dies from cancer, the dialogue is sappy, and the soundtrack reflects the man’s feelings of trying to live without her.
Why is Hollywood so terrible to women and make them do all the physical suffering? I mean is it so hard to believe that two people, a man and a woman, going through a similar painful experience find each other and instead of constantly fearing death, take life as it comes at them? Fault This is exactly what Fault does and why it is so brilliant.
Shailene Woodley’s opening dialogue and continuing monologues throughout the film defy genre standards. Despite being a film that will end in death, there is so much life in it. The film goes to some very real places. She knows she will die and is fearful of what will happen to her parents when she goes. Most of all, she fears love because she knows, as she puts it, she is an active grenade and wants to minimalize the casualties when she goes off. Both Woodley and her costar, Ansel Elgort, are fantastic as Hazel and Gus, two teens experiencing life to the fullest while they can.
The movie doesn’t dwell on death melodramatically as its predecessors did. There is one bit where Hazel is juxtaposed with Anne Frank that I’m not entirely on board with, but overall The Fault in Our Stars is fantastic. I know this film is not for everyone, particularly those who do not want to go see something that is going to make them cry. I didn’t, but I had to fight the urge really hard, especially in four stand out scenes (I’m not telling, go see for yourself), though everyone around me let their tears pour out. According to Buzzfeed there are 26 times total in the film that have been dubbed “the times the movie hits you right in the feels.” I rate it a strong 9/10 with very minimal issues, a compelling story with excellent acting and an overall improvement on the genre.
THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS
In Japanese anime there is a genre called “slice of life” which is typically a story that gives us a snapshot of someone’s life. There is a holy trinity of sorts within this category- Air, Clannad, and Kanon- that make you cry. Usually the women get sick (not necessarily from cancer) and die. Despite the similar theme, the execution is completely different from Hollywood films. The reason people cry at these is because they really get to know the character either before they get sick or before it’s revealed they are sick, which when it happens out of the blue, hits you hard. The reason I bring this up is because you go into these shows with their cute animation styles and lighthearted, comedic episodes and then bam, tragedy.
Despite knowing right off the bat that Hazel is terminal, the film’s beginning is surprisingly lighthearted. You know there’s not going to be some miracle cure for Hazel so you’re somewhat prepared for that. But if you didn’t read the book or looked the plot up on the internet it’s a complete shock when Gus’s cancer comes back into full force and he ends up dying before she does. It hits you like a ton of bricks since the first half of the film is a budding romance, focusing on her concern of leaving him. For it to go the other way around, wow! No I don’t find pleasure in knowing two teenagers are going to die, but I like the fact that they keep everything grounded in reality. It’s a change that the genre needed.
The dialogue does not get weighed down with sappy “I love you’s.” The characters have their good days and their bad days, like people in everyday life do. I think the feeling to walk away with is to live life to the fullest.
Nothing is sugar coated, thankfully. Even the plot point of the Make a Wish genies arranging for Hazel to meet her favorite author has a sobering effect. One expects him to be sympathetic and the meeting to be a good thing, but their encounter is anything but. It unflinchingly shows the impact on someone who has lost a loved one to cancer. Indeed, not everyone is able to channel their grief into something positive like Hazel’s mom who goes on to be a social worker. Some people become stuck and for instance abuse alcohol to get by. The range of characters is something I don’t think should be overlooked. I don’t want teen-cancer movies to become a trend but should there be another one in a decade or so, this should be the standard it reaches for.