The Fault in Our Stars is a good book. It is quick and slick and smart. It is also deeply moving, and I like it a lot. It's a novel that can be categorized in several different genres: it's sick-lit, it's YA, it's a romance, it's a dark comedy.
Because of Fault's wit and emotion, the fact that it is problematic is often swept under the rug. Like I said, it's a good book -- but it has its shortcomings. Author John Green insists it isn't your typical sick-lit, YA novel, and in a sense, this is true. No youth, plagued with "terminal" status, is trying to cross anything off a bucket list; there is no healthy, comedic gal pal dishing out boy advice to her ailing BFF.
Alternatively, Fault has its share of teen cliches. The dream boy who is a jock but speaks like an Oberlin English major (with a minor in film, no doubt); the "star-crossed" romance that, admittedly, strikes a deeper cord due to it's terminally-ill lovers. These tropes slide by unnoticed while reading, mainly because you're knee-deep in your own tears by the time all is said and done. But they'll slowly seep into your brain and will refuse to leave -- the "a teenage boy really said that?!" quotes will stop being cute to you eventually.
Despite these cliches, the book is gripping -- it is a mindless read, but an emotional one, and it will leave you feeling sad for weeks. It is a novel that embraces two of the most important aspects of the human experience: true love, and death. Although it succumbs to the typical tropes by its third act, these gooey, romantic and tear-jerking moments feel some-what essential. This is the love story that's being told: one that is marginally limited, just like all things in life.
The Fault in Our Stars is not a good movie. It stretches the cliches of the book into full scenes. It feels mildly contrived. Even the scenes that are supposed to be funny or sweet come off as a little silly. And, for all the great press she's getting, Shailene Woodley is special as Hazel Grace Lancaster, but it is more so in moments than in the length of the film. Perhaps it's his boyish charm or his vaguely teddy-bear looks, but from where I was sitting, Augustus Waters (played by the irreplaceable Ansel Elgort) carries the movie on his back -- he's consistent, his character development is beautiful, and he is immeasurably in love. It is a joy to watch.
This performance plays wholly into the success of the Fault film -- it may not be good, but it will make you feel. In this way, it follows in the footsteps of Titanic, a movie that doesn't really hit you until the last hour or so. Love is central to both films, as is loss. What's worse, death is inevitable -- whether it's a doomed luxury cruise or a PET scan that "[lights] up like a Christmas tree," it rides on the horizon of these movies like a devastating symbolic sunset.
Anything that makes us cry is, in my mind, a good thing -- it allows us to feel, or channel our emotions in a way that makes us more comfortable. It's hard to watch Fault and not wonder if it is manipulating you -- if it wants you to cry so you will feel emotionally tethered. Even if this is true, it's also hard to really care if you're being manipulated. Just as it's said multiple times in the movie and novel, "pain demands to be felt."
On a grander note, Fault speaks a wider message that transcends its universal theme of "Even sick people can find love, too." Above anything else, Fault speaks on how love unlocks us, and allows us to escape our most unthinkable personal tragedies. There are scenes in which you forget the two teens are even sick -- the love story is all consuming. This is what makes Fault what it is: a beautiful tribute to finding love, and being freed from the scary things in life because of it. Yes, the movie is cliched and, at times, cheesy. Overall, Fault sees as much truth and devastation as any Oscar nominated film -- just with more teen optimism, cuddling and "made you cry!" moments.
While the movie is a cathartic sob-fest that'll have you crying as you exit the theater, drive home, and lie awake at night, the biggest issue I encountered when attending a 9:00 screening Thursday night was its fans. You'd think that, after waiting several years for a film adaptation, John Green lovers (or Nerdfighters, as they call themselves) would be determined to soak in every drop of the movie. Unfortunately, the norm seemed to be whispering, squealing and an inappropriate amount of screaming. Moments that should've been beautiful and symbolic -- the "grenade" speech, Gus and Hazel verbally sparring during support group -- were cheapened by fan reactions. Maybe it's my fault for seeing it in that setting; maybe I should've waited.
In any event, The Fault in Our Stars is a film that, while staying true to the novel, is still removed from its literary companion. It enriches the human experience -- it opens our hearts to a love that feels as if it can cure. At the end of the day, it is a beautiful snapshot of adoration. Plus, it doesn't hurt that it's filled with aesthetically pleasing actors, right?