Okay . . .
Let me first admit, I knew nothing about The Fault in Our Stars before going to see it. I did not watch any previews; I just knew it was based on a fairly popular novel and had something to do with cancer. I knew it was supposed to be a fairly emotional, chick-flick type movie, based on all the social media blurbs I happened to come across. What pulled me in initially was some strong acting choices, along with its link to solid source material by author John Green, and a surprisingly positive critical response.
Fault details the story of a teenage girl, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), who fights lung cancer. Her symptoms are generally controllable, but she wears tubes, totes an oxygen tank, and limits her physical exertion to cope with the disease. Upon the urging of her parents to fight depression and isolation, Hazel attends a support group for cancer patients. Through this group she meets a cancer survivor and amputee names Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). The rest of the story narrates their relationship and common struggle.
Any storyteller has a choice in how they tell sad stories. It is perhaps best to apologize and simply tell the truth.
These are the first lines we here Hazel, who narrates the whole movie, say as she lies on her back staring at the sky. I will try to keep most of the details of the storyline vague, but the film does not shy away from the troubling reality of its subject matter. What was even more striking to me about the way the story is written is how the characters grasp the reality of their sickness. Hazel and Augustus joke about their condition often, which struck me initially as insensitive. But the fact is – this IS the real story. They know who they are and what reality is for them. We all know cancer is awful, but their struggle is about how they choose to live with the knowledge that life may end sooner for them than they’d like.
I’ll admit, I was ready to be worked over by this movie. I was ready to have it conveniently pull every heartstring to get a good cry out of me, and I expected the plot line to seem a bit too contrived for a convincing, non-cheesy narrative. I did struggle with the first 30 minutes or so, but by the time the story really got moving, I was bought in. The real credit for this should go to Woodley. All the other actors do a fine job, but her genuine-natured lead role keeps everyone else on track and allows us to ignore most of the fringe distractions.
What we’re given is an honest look at embracing hard facts. We get to see both Hazel and Augustus cope with the harsh and revel in the splendid. There is nothing about this movie that should blow you away; it’s simply a good story about love, bravery, and risk. It’s witty, sarcastic, and, somehow, very sensitive all at the same time.
One of my favorite scenes shows Augustus putting a cigarette to his mouth. Just as Hazel is about to write him off for being an idiot, he tells her this:
It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing.
And that’s just what this movie is about: you get to choose what you let hurt you.