I cried like a baby. Let’s just get that out of the way. I ugly cried, and my appreciation for my wife grew, since I’m pretty sure she saw/heard me and she’s still living with me. That’s true love. Someone should write a novel about us.
But the movie: This is the kind of movie that should be insufferable. The characters should be too good to be true. The romance should be over-the-top unrealistic. The ending should be sickening. In other words, this should be a Nicholas Sparks movie. (But not The Notebook, because actual filmmakers made that one.)
It’s not a Nicholas Sparks movie though. Instead, it’s based on a book by John Green, wildly popular for its frank depiction of two cancer-stricken teenagers who fall in love. Actual filmmakers made this movie too, thought you wouldn’t know it by the lack of creative, on-camera directing choices. You would know it by the superb performances and the savvy screenplay adaptation that includes all the catchphrases fans extracted from the book and put on T-shirts.
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, previously a brother and sister duo in Divergent, are Fault‘s young lovers, Hazel and Augustus (Gus, for short). They meet at a cancer support group. He begins his wooing of her immediately, catching her off guard with his nonchalance. I’ve heard people complain that Hazel and Augustus seem too perfect, especially Gus, but I think the performances ground the idealistic dialogue (simplified from Green’s more detailed and believable book) in reality. Woodley is predictably great, as she was in her star-making turns in The Descendants and Divergent,. Elgort is the revelation here. His Gus is awkwardly confident and optimistic to a fault. Elgort plays Gus like a lot of the guys I knew as a teenager who were good at making girls feel special but full of their own personal insecurities.
There are other great performances in this movie. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell are Hazel’s weary but positive parents. Dern, especially, shines as a mother who works hard to conceal her pain from her daughter. Willem Dafoe plays the author of the book that both Hazel and Gus love. I won’t say anything too revealing about his performance other than to remark how much more complicated he is than he first appears. The director is Josh Boone. What he lacks in the stagnant shot construction and hospital-gray lighting he makes up for off-screen. Someone had to elicit such satisfying performances across the board, and someone had to navigate adapting this hit novel. Aside from a scene at the Anne Frank house that is wrong on so many levels (and is far less heavy-handed in John Green’s prose), Green’s tone and themes come through on-screen loud and clear.
Green’s book is fulfilling, because he articulates so clearly the hopelessness of this world when we’re confronted with the pale reality of death. For me, Hazel’s and Augustus’s story points to the lack of hope in this world, and I’m reminded of my perfect hope in Christ. But for those who don’t trust in Christ, I worry that Green leaves it open to look for hope in romance, in epic loves that you can hold onto even after they’re gone. But those will turn out to be poor fountains of hope in the real world. Even so, both Green’s book and Boone’s movie are potent reminders of the power both love and death have over life.