I belong to a unique group of people who have links with cancer in some way. It’s not like we want special treatment or anything, or to be recognised for this fact. It’s just life is difficult sometimes and this is our reality. You might think, then, that seeing The Fault In Our Stars is a strange viewing choice. In many respects, it just had to be done.
The film is built around Hazel who has incurable cancer and who is encouraged to go to a support group that she doesn’t really want to attend. There she unexpectedly meets Augustus, a cancer survivour who is there supporting his friend Isaac. Joined by a mutual love of the author Peter van Houten, a friendship flourishes between them. Hazel resists romance because of her circumstances, but as the adventure to seek out van Houten continues everyone is bowled over by Augustus’ charismatic ways.
This is basically a love story that just happens to involve someone with cancer, because love happens and cancer happens and some of the time there’s very little that can stop either thing. The storyline is largely faithful to the original novel, but the film captures something of the magic of first love at 17 that John Green’s book just doesn’t give us. Shailene Woodley sparkles as Hazel and Ansel Elgort’s Augustus Waters looks so in love, so committed to this feeling that it gave me goosebumps. Seeing this on a big screen gives a different aspect to what’s been presented to us in print. In the book, we’re told what happens, told of their intensity of feeling. We can imagine this, but to see it portrayed in such a way is for me something beyond the page.
It feels like because this movie has a label of a weepy based on a hugely successful book in the young adult market, many people are going to dismiss it as being unworthy of a viewing. And the cancer thing of course. That’s surely going to put people off. This is a great shame because as well as the great acting and unusual plot, the characterisation in the film allows development that the original story’s first person narrative doesn’t allow. In the movie, the way Hazel’s Mum (played by Laura Dern) evolves into something that portrays the constant urgency of being a carer, moves the character on to be more three dimensional. Willem Defoe being cast as van Houten is also a brilliant move as he is all the wounded, angry, bitter, alcoholic, someone with more reason and depth that the van Houten of the novel perhaps.
I turned to my friend at the end of this film, people still crying around us and said that it just wasn’t as bad as the real thing. The movie after all is just fiction, however stark the reality that it is trying to capture. Cancer can tear your heart out, rip it up and stomp on it. That’s the reality. But I applaud both the film and the book for trying to embrace what is real, it’s grasp of real lives loving as hard and as much as they can before it’s too late. The truth is The Fault In Our Stars is not the tear your heart out, rip it up and stomp on it reality, but there are challenges in very emotional movies like this that hold a mirror up to our own lives, the way we love, our own mortality. If the mirror mists up, we’re still breathing, right?