Very few weeks is there not a movie I’m interested in seeing—only if it’s out of morbid curiosity or strictly an intellectual interest. I rarely approach the ticket counter and think, What the hell am I going to see? However, last week presented one of those weekends. Whenever I don’t have a pre-picked movie to see, I try to challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone. One of the things about getting older is the slow secession of impulses that comes with it. The familiar is comforting; the idea of new discovery, not so much. By now I know what I like and what I hate, and I’m fairly certain that very little will change. I still try, mind you. I make attempts.
For example, the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”—which critics, friends and my wife can’t stop showering with praise—is not on my radar of likes. I tried watching a couple of episodes and grew to greatly dislike the whole affair very quickly. Season two popped up a few weeks back and my wife tried to get me to watch it again, but I already knew I didn’t care for it. Still, we can’t stop trying new things, even if the final outcome is not liking it very much. That was pretty much the experience I had with “The Fault in Our Stars.”
I know. Middle-aged men aren’t exactly the focus group for a movie about terminally ill teenagers falling it love. It’s sappy, stupid, and cheesier than a metric ton of white cheddar covered in a Gruyère glaze. I went into the theater and tried to shut down my inner cynic. I tried to open my heart to a beloved modern tale of star-crossed lovers with lymphoma; however, the cruel reality of this sugar-coated confection kicked in quickly.
Here’s a little tip for writers out there: If you don’t want me to hate your story, don’t give your characters pretentious names, and repeat them again and again. The heroine is named Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a name I’m rather fond of as it’s shared by one of my two daughters. It’s an old-fashioned name not really heard much anymore, so it stands out when verbalized. Nothing wrong with that. You have a lead character with a unique name. But they introduce the inevitable love interest and saddle him with the even more quirky moniker, Augustus (Ansel Elgort). Ten minutes in and my head is already clutched in my hands. Every time someone declares “Hazel and Augustus” in the same sentence, I chuckle. I don’t know why characters in young-adult novels have to have cloying names. It’s almost somewhat acceptable in fantasy books or futuristic stories. No one has a problem with Katniss or Peeta in the dystopian future of “The Hunger Games.” In a world where wizards and magic exist, we won’t roll our eyes at names like Hermione or Severus. But in a modern day love story, hearing “Hazel and Augustus” 30 times produces a lot of cringing in the theater.
Our story centers on the two lovebirds who meet and immediately develop throbbing teenage heebee-jeebees for one another. One look, and it’s pretty much a super friendly flirt fest. The characters are given their wounds and vulnerabilities. Hazel is still miraculously alive after years of treatment; Augustus has lost a leg but is apparently cancer free. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time on their initial courtship. They are young, impulsive and head over heels in love. Hazel has become obsessed with a novelist (Willem Dafoe) who wrote her favorite book and has vanished from the public eye. Augustus lines up a meeting that reveals her idol to be a narcissistic douchehole. However, the trip is saved when the two star-crossed lovers decide to consummate their burgeoning relationship. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone unfamiliar. There’s a twist that shows up around the hour mark which is so obvious Hazel and Augustus’ blind friend Issac could see it coming.
This is a movie engineered for people who want to cry. The characters are only as complex as their disease allows them to be. Every sugary-sweet line of dialogue comes delivered with an “aw-shucks” level of earnestness that hits the ear like a wet mop. There’s one line heavily featured in the trailer when Hazel says, “I fell in love with him like you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” I’m sure 10-year-olds are we-chatting that line to their friends on their iPhones. It’s so terrible. Was it slowly or all at once, Hazel? Those two thoughts contradict each other. It was at that moment, I realized I was bemoaning a fictional cancer patient and my brain called it a day.
“The Fault in Our Stars” isn’t a bad film. It’s well put together and it was never boring. I’m just the wrong person to be reviewing this movie. I lack the emotional spectrum of the young to enjoy something this sweet and pungent. I gave the film two stars because a few really good scenes were fighting to get out of a very pedestrian film. Dafoe and Woodley share maybe 10 minutes of screen time, and there are more sparks in them than any of the canned romance between Woodley and Elgort. I stepped outside my comfort zone and was rebuffed. That doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying.
The Fault in Our Stars
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Egort
Directed by Josh Boone