Tuesday 20 March 2018

Blog: The Tears in Our Stars

For anyone wondering what the fuss is with The Fault in Our Stars, the answer is: the best kind of tears.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot in The Fault in Our Stars
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot in The Fault in Our Stars
Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

The Fault in Our Stars has spent the last few years as a book I was aware of, but had no interest in reading. I perceived it as something that trended on Twitter and had a die-hard following amongst angsty teenagers. I admired the name, but there was no danger of it entering my to-read list.

Then I heard Newstalk’s Ivan Yates rave about the movie. His comments felt so genuine and broke the flow of the show in such a way that I had to take note. The movie went from ‘some teenaged thing’ to a curious must-see.

The movie focuses on Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient. Forced by her parents to go to a support group, Hazel meets Augustus Waters. Romance blooms, but always with the backdrop of terminal cancer.

Overpowering sadness could easily have been the tone of the movie. Terrible things are happening to good people and from the intro we know the aim is a real story rather than candy coated tale. But, there is an undeniable feel good factor running throughout, a case of love and the value of life having real importance.

The chemistry between the leads is great and the relationship develops cleverly, to the point where you genuinely believe they make each others’ lives joyous.  Adding to the central romance is the parental love creating an extra layer of warm fuzzy feeling to go with the slices of sadness.

All of this leads to one thing: tears.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort
Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort

The Fault In Our Stars is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s clever. It brings you up to let you fall further. The ever-present sadness plants the seed, but moments of joy and pain reap the tears. The characters are likeable, so when something happens you genuinely feel for them. As Augustus Waters puts it “That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt,” and nothing is held back.

Oddly, it was the moments of joy that brought me closest to tears, but I was saved by the realisation that everyone around me was crying. The usual sound of rustling popcorn bags became secondary to the sound of gulping tears and tissue packets. It was enough of a distraction to allow me to stay composed.

The dark concealed the running mascara and puffy eyes, but it wouldn’t have mattered, we were all in it together.

When the movie finished, I half expected applause. When only a few people moved, I wondered if we were waiting for a Marvel-style snippet at the end. The lights came up and I realised most of the people remaining were busy pulling themselves together.

On leaving the screen, I had to dodge groups of teenagers giving each other moral support. Hoods were pulled up and faces were hidden by hands. Over at the toilets, I joined the group of men waiting for the more sophisticated criers to emerge.

I may make it sound like it was only women and teens affected, but there was no banter on the way out of the screen, no chatter about the key points or flaws. Solemn faces were in vogue amongst the non-criers. Nobody complained.

And yet, it felt cathartic. Quite possibly the best feel good movie since Up.

Discussing it afterwards, the point came up that the film was full of triggers. Most people know someone who has suffered from a long term illness and some have lost that special love, but the movie’s message was to be thankful for the time we had. The call to cherish those moments is a powerful one.

Scene from 'The Fault In Our Stars'
Scene from 'The Fault In Our Stars'

I’m not saying it was the best movie I’ve ever seen and I’m sure I’ll find flaws on a second viewing, but it managed to captivate me to a point where everything was secondary to the characters’ journey.

The book has been added to the list.

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