“Depression isn’t a side effect of cancer. It’s a side effect of dying.”
How you feel about “The Fault in Our Stars” will largely depend on the way you feel about lines like this, one of the first sentiments Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) espouses in the John Green film adaptation.
You see, Hazel is a teenager living with cancer, and she’s pretty pragmatic about it. In fact, there’s nothing she’d rather do less than go to a support group for other kids with terminal illnesses.
But at the insistent urging of her engaging, contemplative mother – played by a pitch perfect Laura Dern, who should seriously be in all the things – she does.
And that’s where she finds the one thing she isn’t pragmatic about whatsoever: love.
Hazel meets a boy named Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort, "Divergent") – Gus, if you’re feeling friendly. He lost a leg due to a cancer of his own, which has since gone into remission.
They bond over text messages – which appear on-screen using cute, chalkboard-like speech bubbles – and the love of a novel entitled “An Imperial Affliction.”
Augustus is also the kind of boy who talks deeply about “oblivion” and consistently walks around with an unlit cigarette in his mouth (“It’s a metaphor”).
For many, this kind of dialogue will likely inspire the same kind of feelings the last generation of teens’ parents experienced while watching the WB’s equally verbose “Dawson’s Creek” in the early ‘00s.
But beyond the (admittedly earned) teen angst and the $10 words, “TFIOS” joins a recent string of smart, emotionally resonant teen dramas like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and Woodley’s “Spectacular Now.”
A subplot involving the young couple’s correspondence with the reclusive author behind “Affliction,” leading to a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip to Amsterdam, could have felt out of place in the realist drama.
Yet the film primarily takes an insightful peek into Hazel Grace and Augustus’s love story and their mutual need to fill their fleeting time with “firsts,” though the round of applause their passionate kiss in the Anne Frank house receives is bizarrely tone deaf.
Accompanying them on their trip, Dern is incredible at capturing the bittersweet emotions that come with tragic circumstances and what it truly means to be a parent.
In fact, both she and her on-screen husband (Sam Trammell, “True Blood”) are surprisingly welcome presences as the ‘rents in a movie aimed a teens.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that “TFIOS” also features one of the best pop soundtracks in recent memory, with tracks from “Fancy” singer Charli XCX, along with rising stars like Jake Bugg, Grouplove and Lykke Li.
Based on the reaction in the screening, this tearjerker will make just about anyone with a pulse cry.
But as the movie touches on time and time again, some infinities are bigger than others, and the sweetness of “The Fault in Our Stars” will outlive the sorrow.