In their review of the The Fault in Our Stars, the New York Times said, “The film sets out to make you weep — not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy. It succeeds.”
And they’re right, but The Fault in Our Stars is a tearjerker like Buzzfeed is click bait, sure there’s some substance there, but only if you don’t look too hard.
The theater was packed with a special kind of giddy anticipation that only fans, in this case Nerdfighters in “Okay? Okay” and French the Llama t-shirts, can muster. And why shouldn’t they be excited? They are about to watch a movie based on a book written by YouTube/Tumblr/Internet-famous nice-guy John Green. A book inspired by the life and death of a fellow Nerdfighter. This is a big deal. We hush as the lights dim.
The movie starts with a promise. This is not like other tragic love stories, the voiceover assures you. This is not like other cancer tales. This is not a beautiful tale of the beautiful deaths of beautiful people; this is the truth. That’s when the problems begin.
I had no preconception that this story would magically emerge from the engine of popular filmmaking a rough, blistering tale of teenage death, pocked with both the acne and seeping chest wounds of young people with cancer. But this?! This beautiful, precisely acted, and emphatically casual movie, full of expertly calculated music meant to render the theater blubbery at just the right moments? It worked. Congratulations. It achieved its most modest goals: getting people to cry before they had a chance to think. I was surrounded on all sides by weeping people of all denominations. Tissues were passed; loud sobs were heard; people cried.
But strip away the flood of tears and take a look at the rest of the movie and it’s just beauty — bland, featureless beauty. It was the beautiful, charming, heartbreaking love of teenagers with no future who will never have to fight over money or bear the pains and complications of adult life. They die, not from a texting miscommunication, or the classic posing of one dagger for the other, star-crossed love stuff, but from cancer. It’s death by the oversuccess of your own cells, which is deep — and metaphorical and stuff. And that’s the problem with beautiful movies, they are polished, perfect distractions. They presume thoughtful meaning. All the ugliness in the book, all the pain and the coma and infection laced through the characters’ lives, all of that fear is reduced to one coughing fit and the tragic heroism of climbing some stairs.
Oh man, the stairs scene is the worst. It’s hard to call foul on a movie in which both the main characters are disabled. I want disabled people to have our stories told. We are hardly well represented, so I should be grateful for any screen time we get right? Speaking as a girl with a complicated relationship to stairs, if a bunch of strangers clapped because I managed to drag myself up a few flights in the Anne Frank house and then kiss my boyfriend, I might punch someone.
There’s no use pretending I’m an unbiased reviewer. I have a point of view. I’m disabled and a YouTuber and I read the book first and I see the movie in the context of the fan base that has wholeheartedly supported the Green brothers since their early start online. I understand that this review, or frankly any review, will do nothing to divert the bullet train that is #TFIOS popularity online.
I just want people to see beyond the waterworks and decide if the movie delivered what it promised. If you’re in the mood to cry at something pretty, go for it. Just don’t expect your recreational sadness to come with any interesting ugly complexity and don’t conflate tears with truth.