Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
I need to begin this review by telling you three things. First, bring tissues. You will need them desperately. I saw the movie earlier and I’m still choked up. Second, this review is killing me to write because despite the completely brilliant story and characters and quirky film choices and all of the lovely things I’m going to tell you about…there’s not much happening in terms of positive morality or discussion of God or faith (which, I’ve got to tell you, in a movie largely about death, I was surprised). Third, and most importantly, this review is of the MOVIE. I repeat, this review is only of the MOVIE.
The Fault in Our Stars is a story centered around Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and the fact that she is dying of cancer. No punches are pulled here, folks. Hazel is candid and raw with us as she tells her story and we see it all — her humanity, her quirkiness, her humor, her anger, her love… And then, remarkably, we see her meet someone at the world’s most awkwardly forced support group who takes all of those beautiful things that are Hazel Grace and reflects them back at her. When Hazel meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) he is everything she is, only magnified. Where she plays her hand close to her vest, he stands on a rooftop in the spotlight. Watching them together is heart achingly lovely. They are quite obviously and with zero sarcasm at all, soulmates. We watch them both battle illness, balance family relationships and friendships, and somehow come through all of that with smirks on their faces. We go with them on the trip of a lifetime, figuratively and literally. I am very much a fan of Hazel Grace and Gus. I also applaud how the story treats their relationships with their parents. Both Hazel Grace and Gus come from loving, stable, two parent homes and they each are blessed with wonderfully supportive families. Hollywood does not show us families like those too much these days so it was refreshing to see. I will refrain from telling you much about the story because almost anything I would say would be a big, honking spoiler and this is the kind of movie that can be ruined by even ONE early revelation.
The acting is completely wonderful. The whole movie feels authentic and true to the situations. There is a temptation to lean toward melodrama with a subject like this, but bravo to the creative team for avoiding that pitfall! The highs are high, the lows are low, but they come to the viewer as they might come in life: without formula and not as you would have chosen them. The camera work isn’t flashy, but it’s effective in driving the story. The soundtrack is spot on. The team employed the use of text on the screen in a way that was fun and quirky and helped to push the story forward. The homes, the costumes, all of the storytelling elements are just…authentic. I keep coming back to that word because honestly, it’s the only one that fits. The filmmaking artistry here is like Hazel Grace and Gus: nuanced and quietly gorgeous.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
Death is staring us in the face through the entire movie. It’s the elephant in the room. Most of us, when confronted with the idea of death, would begin to ponder the afterlife and faith and things in that ballpark, right? Apparently not so with Hazel Grace and Gus. Hazel Grace is rather fatalistic not only with her own life but also with humanity in general. She says that everything will end and there will be no one left to remember. Gus says he believes in God and that he has hope in something bigger. That’s pretty much all of the discussion you’re going to get along those lines.
The two meet at a support group in the basement of an Episcopal church where the facilitator is just this side of ridiculous. He unrolls a massive rug depicting the figure of Christ and tells the kids that they are in the literal heart of Jesus. It becomes sort of a running joke. The awkward, guitar-toting youth minister caricature is our only concrete representation of Church, Faith, or Religion and he’s not a wonderful example.
So if we aren’t discussing The Afterlife in Stars, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about what it actually means to be alive. We’re talking about how to live and what that looks like. There’s a powerful scene that happens between Hazel Grace and Gus where he is frustrated at his illness and he tells her that he always thought he would be special. He says that he thought he would do something big or heroic and be remembered. Hazel Grace tries to interject and to tell him that he is special and he blows it off. She gets angry. She tells him that she’s mad because she thinks he’s special and he doesn’t think that’s enough. She tells him that he has one life, this one, and that he gets her and his friends and his parents and that it’s a pretty good life and she wonders why that isn’t enough for him. He can see that he hurts her. He apologizes and they seem to come to an understanding. I think that scene basically encapsulates the point of the entire movie. In our time on this Earth, we can only use what we are given. We cannot become so caught up in wishes and dreams that we neglect to live the life we have. The footprints we leave on the hearts of those closest to us should matter, and they should matter more than anything we might have done for strangers. This is a movie about being yourself, flaws and limitations and all, and loving people despite those flaws and limits. It’s also a story about learning to let people love you, even when you aren’t perfect.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
There is cursing, groping, some unclothed making out and the indication of sexual acts, underage drinking, and basic teenage antics (sneaking around, egging a car, etc). Again, I will point out that all of this is entirely authentic to the story, but caution should be taken with younger viewers.
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
I am so sad knowing that many “churchy” people are going to dismiss this movie because of the message and morality, but there is so much happening in terms of honesty and humanity that I only hope that at least the adults will give it a chance.
Why didn’t I bring any tissues?! Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’m wearing this cardigan with long sleeves….
There are grown men sobbing in this theater. I just want to go home and process these emotions with some pie. LOTS of pie. Oh, man.