Friday, June 6, 2014

A Tear-Jerker of the First Order


“Fault in Our Stars:” You Will Weep

By Skip Sheffield

Need a good cry? “The Fault in Our Stars” is a sure bet to get the waterworks working.
“The Fault in Our Stars” is the most effective tear-jerker since “Love Story.” Indeed it blows away that sappy 1970 doomed romance.
A young guy named Josh Boone (“Stuck in Love”) directed “Fault” and Scott Neustader adapted John Green’s novel. Neustader previously showed his bittersweet romance chops with “(500) Days of Summer” in 2009 and “Spectacular Now” in 2013.
Not coincidentally, Shailene Woodley starred in “Spectacular Now” and plays the principal role of Hazel Grace Lancaster in “Fault.”
Hazel is only 17 and is a terminal thyroid cancer patient. The cancer has damaged her lungs so badly she has to lug around an oxygen tank for the tubes in her nose that enable her to breathe.
Hazel’s mother Frannie (Laura Dern) frets that Hazel is depressed.
“Depression is not a side effect of cancer,” Hazel says. “It’s a side effect of dying.”
Nevertheless Hazel agrees to go to a cancer support peer group where she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters (Ansel Elgort), a plucky 18-year-old cancer survivor who has lost a leg to the disease. Gus has a good friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) who has lost an eye to cancer and stands to lose his remaining good eye to save his life.
This all may sound rather morbid, but it is not. Hazel, Gus and Isaac are witty, funny characters and they speak words that get directly to the heart of the matter. They also get angry and do foolish juvenile things.
Hazel and Gus are both avid readers, and Hazel turns on Gus to her favorite novel, “An Imperial Affliction,” by a mysterious author named Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). Through somewhat miraculous circumstances Gus gets through to Van Houten’s personal assistant Lidewij (Lotte Verbeek), who lives with him in Amsterdam. Taking advantage of a Make-a-Wish grant, Gus books passage for Hazel, her mother and him to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and to find out why his book drops off in mid-sentence.
After a magical dinner with Dom Perignon champagne courtesy Peter Van Houten, Hazel and Gus finally met the author. To say he was uncooperative is an understatement. He is an insulting, condescending, surly drunk. So much for an idealized image of a brilliant writer.
What makes “Fault” so effective is that is balances mawkish sentiment with hard slaps of reality. We know the outcome of the story but we are drawn in anyway. Be advised to bring along some tissues. You will need them.
My prediction is that we will be hearing from Shailene Woodley at Oscar nomination time.

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