If you see hordes of high school girls leaving the movie theater this weekend with tissues and puffy eyes, you might write it off as another win for young adult formula fiction.
At least you can rest assured they aren’t crying about whether Bella would choose Edward or Jacob. This time they are crying about the tragic love story of two kids with cancer called “The Fault in Our Stars,” based on a best-selling novel by John Green.
The movie hit theaters Thursday, and even though it brought out more teenage girls than most area proms, I couldn’t help but feel some critics cheated the movie (and more importantly, the book) by dismissing it as a predictable chick flick.
Jocelyn Novack of the Associated Press gave it a decent review, attributing most of its success to lead actress Shailene Woodley, who was no doubt an excellent choice for the depressing yet witty narrator Hazel Grace Lancaster.
But I didn’t feel Novack was emotionally attached to the story, and even less so was McClatchy’s critic, Roger Moore, who gave it two stars and called the plot “stunningly obvious.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been frustrated by critics.
They have long used their fancy critic words to tell me stories close to my heart aren’t special, and sometimes it’s understandable. These people see hundreds of movies and most of them follow common story patterns.
But if you read their reviews and think “The Fault in Our Stars” is just another movie for teen girls, you’re missing the deeper emotional connection it offers young viewers and even adults who give it a chance.
The story starts with 16-year-old Hazel, who explains how she barely survived the thyroid cancer that will eventually kill her, and now she wears nasal tubes connected to a portable oxygen tank because her lungs “suck at being lungs.”
To minimize the damage of her impending death, Hazel lives a small and sad life mostly regulated by her parents and her favorite reality TV shows, until her parents force her to go to a cancer support group where she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort).
Augustus is an optimist in remission from a cancer that cost him one of his legs, and he pursues Hazel relentlessly until she learns to accept love and find the magic in life — even if it is short-lived.
Although the romance is gushy at times, the deeper storyline saves this movie from sinking among the ranks of other teen love stories such as "Twilight."
On the first day Hazel and Augustus meet, Augustus tells the cancer support group he fears oblivion because he wants to do something great and be remembered for it.
Hazel curtly replies, “. . . If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
But what makes these characters special is that, throughout the story, they don’t ignore this or any other questions life offers. Instead, they unabashedly ask: Is there purpose? Is there an afterlife? What makes a life extraordinary? And why does suffering seem so meaningless?
As adults, we tend to take one of three responses to these questions. We attempt to explain them like Hazel’s Bible-thumping support group leader, ignore them and go on with life as her parents do, or address them with the cold nihilist perspective of her favorite author, Peter Van Houten.
But the great gift of this story is that it shows us an alternative response in the shameless questioning and confusion of Hazel and Augustus as they approach the edge of eternity.
They don’t ignore life’s questions, but they don’t get hung up on them, either, because even with all of the suffering and sadness in the world, “it’s a good life,” Augustus reminds us.
My recommendation to you is: Read the book. Once you read the book, you’ll probably want to see the movie, and when you see the movie, you might find yourself crying like a teenage girl.
I won’t judge you, because even if the plot is predictable (as some critics say), predictability here is as much of a moot point as it was when Shakespeare gave away the end of “Romeo and Juliet” in his opening soliloquy. You don’t need an unpredictable plot to experience the searing pain of loss or to know the dark feeling of aloneness when you stare into nothing and see nothing back.
This story doesn’t offer tidy purposes or explanations. Instead, it looks all of our unanswered questions in the eyes, and offers a simple, yet strangely reassuring, “Okay.”