So here I am, sitting in a theater at AMC Castleton Square 14, waiting for a sneak preview of The Fault in Our Stars to begin. The audience is predominantly teenage girls, fans of John Green's best-selling young adult novel about life, death and love. The target audience is those kids. It is most certainly not a guy like me. I'm perilously close to that age where people stop saying "It's tragic he died so young" and start saying "Well, he lived a good life." But it doesn't matter to whom the film is aimed. My task is to watch and write.
The movie starts and I meet Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a 16-year-old with cancer. An experimental treatment helps her manage the illness. Hazel is determined to face her future without getting sentimental. Pressed into attending meetings of a cancer support group, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man as sweet-faced as she is. Augustus lost part of a leg to cancer, but he is in remission right now. He tries hard to be larger than life.
The two clearly star-crossed teens are easy to watch. Woodley is just excellent and Elgort is charming. I like that the film is set in Indianapolis, my home town. Shame it was shot in Pennsylvania because Indiana does nothing to encourage filmmakers to shoot here. I appreciate the film's humor, and what a treat it is to see Mike Birbiglia, my favorite comedian/actor/writer/director, playing the leader of the cancer support group. He even gets to sing a song from his early years as a stand-up comic. Good for you, Mike. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel's parents, by the way, and Nat Wolff plays a friend of the lead characters. They all do fine work.
As the story rolls on and Hazel and Augustus grow closer, my mind drifts - not because I'm losing interest in the movie, but because it's so effective. I think about the two young actors and I wish I had been physically beautiful like them, even for a little while. I think about loved ones of mine who are gone: Mom and Dad, my buddy Jeff, my high school pal John, and numerous others. My eyes water. I mourn for them, then I mourn for me, and for all of us that have to die.
The kids discuss mortality and I think about it. When the subject of death comes up, I tell people that within the ocean there are waves. Some of the waves travel only a few feet, while others roll on for thousands of miles. They all dissipate eventually, but they don't go away. They were part of the ocean before they became waves and they remain part of the ocean afterward. We, each of us, are waves in the ocean, I tell people, and we are always part of the ocean. Isn't that a comforting thought? I think I first heard it said by Yoko Ono.
Death still scares the bejesus out of me. Like Hazel and Augustus, I focus on living in the moment. Right now I get to be the father of the best son in the world. Right now I am loved by many wonderful people. Right now I have hope and limitless possibilities. Right now I am immortal.
Right now is what I have and it's enough for right now.
My eyes get wet again as I watch Hazel and Augustus deal with life, death and love. The story follows them to Amsterdam, where they meet the author (Willem Dafoe) of Hazel's favorite book. They visit the home of Anne Frank too. Then they come back to Indianapolis and more things happen.
At the beginning of the film, Hazel expresses her disapproval of emotional button-pushing scenes like the one in Say Anything where John Cusack holds up a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." Of course, director Josh Boone employs music and posturing in a similar fashion here, only with contemporary songs. TFIOS gets downright gloppy at times, even as Hazel and Augustus strive to remain brave and unsentimental. I'm not grousing about any of that, just noting it. My favorite cancer-related movie dealing with life, death and love is 50/50. But The Fault in Our Stars touched my heart and mind, and right now it feels all right with me. Everything's okay.