I have to come at this post from a few different angles. Well, two angles. One as a straight review – I got a chance to see the film while I was in Seattle. The other is as a former Indianpolis-ite (?), specifically one who worked the city’s film scene for 8 years.
With that in mind, I’m not exactly sure where to start this write-up, so let’s start at the least-complicated point of entry: a quick review of the film.
But wait. No. That doesn’t quite work, because you need some back story on the film and its production before I get to that. OK, we’ll start there.
The Fault in Our Stars (or TFiOS, henceforth) is a young adult phenom of a novel by a gentleman named John Green. I first became aware of Mr. Green and his influence on the interwebs when he Instagrammed a picture of a mutual friend’s wedding that went viral and landed them national media attention. That was almost 2 years ago, when the book was doing deservedly well but production hadn’t yet begun on the film that opens next week.
You see, John Green is an Indianapolis-based writer, and it turns out we know at least a few of the same people. In such a small, tightly-knit city, it’s all but guaranteed you know someone who knows someone. Not only is the author based in the Circle City, this best-known book of his is also set there, making note of at least one of the city’s most iconic locations, a massive sculpture at the IMA.
Here’s where I disclose that I haven’t read the book. What? I’m clearly not the target audience. This, of course, didn’t stop me from reading the Harry Potter series, so why not TFiOS? Mainly because I’ve already read a book as formative and impactful in my own youth – mine was Lurlene McDaniels’ Don’t Die, My Love. Even without reading it, I knew enough about TFiOS to know it would be an earnest, genuine story, but one I didn’t need to experience again as a grown up. Again – not the target audience here.
But as the film moved into production and Mr. Green’s prolific internet presence (his YouTube channel alone has 2M subscribers; 2.4M on Twitter; probably just as many or more on Tumblr) followed every development (quite gloriously, I might add), I kept an eye on things. You see, the movie set in Indianapolis by an Indianapolis-based author would not, it turns out, be filmed in Indianapolis (tax incentives, or rather, lack thereof). Huge. Bummer.
Surely the city would let bygones be bygones as the release approached, and put its world-famous hospitality (see: Super Bowl; Indy 500) on display for a major motion picture premiere. A strong cast, an author-approved adaptation, a summer release – all these things added up to a promising film, and I spoke with friends and former colleagues at both of the city’s major film organizations to see just how they’d be getting involved in the release, if I could help anywhere. I wanted to make sure Indy had its moment to shine amidst all the buzz!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. While John Green and the cast toured malls across the country, Indianapolis remained off the list. While the NYC premiere is set, Indianapolis was left with just off-the-radar advanced screenings sans press this week.
And its too bad, because the film is going to do well, and not just because it has built in throngs of teenage fans forever changed by its gut-wrenching, emotionally-exhausting story. As Green’s been saying this whole time, it’s a good movie.
Hazel (the uber-talented Shailene Woodley) has cancer, of a type she knows she can’t beat, and she’s dealing with it the way any teenager would: with apathy and cynicism. When her mom (Laura Dern, who also attended SIFF and is luminous – and tiny! – in person) convinces her to attend a support group for kids like her, she meets Augustus and Isaac and her summer begins to look up. What follows is predictable but charming, as we watch two wise-(and witty)-beyond-their-years kids fall for each other, articulating their sentiments and observations more astutely than most adults twice their age.
The story takes a touching – and fun – diversion around Hazel’s obsession with a favorite author (quite ironic now, given Green’s cult-like following) and getting answers about the ending of her favorite book. Though the location of the young couple’s first kiss is odd (no spoilers), it’s all done so sincerely you can’t help but be happy for the whippersnappers. But Hazel still has cancer, and Gus still has his own secrets, and we have emotional climaxes to exploit, people.
Had I seen this film 15 years ago, I have no doubt my emotional reaction would be every bit as impassioned as those of the high schoolers experiencing the story today. Post-screening, I realized that Titanic was released when I was that age (ok, ok…do the math) and I saw that emotional porn in the theaters 3 times, sobbing every time Rose is forced to let go (spoilers, sorry). Maybe that’s what 15 year olds need – a jolt of guttural, raw emotion into their psyche, something to knock them up to 11 so they can better gauge the intensity of the emotional roller coasters to come. I certainly don’t begrudge the story that, especially since its emotional ride is so genuine, so wholly delivered from a place of good intentions. Sieze the day, it tells us. Tell the ones you love that you do, today. Now.
I would simply advise those impressionable young 15 year olds to proceed with caution in ODing on this kind of sentimental knock-about. Voice of experience here, I’m afraid. See it in the theaters a few times, pre-order the BluRay, hold on to your tattered, well-read copy of the book (I still have my copy of Don’t Die, My Love). But maybe go see Harold & Maude, too. Just for good measure.
If I were a betting woman, I’d put TFiOS in a $30M window on opening weekend, give or take; it lands alongside Tom Cruise’s latest action flick, which is getting decent reviews and will likely win the weekend. I anticipate reviews will be mixed to positive, generally praising the young leads on their performances, the strongest of the film’s assets.
However it lands, I’m certain of one thing: in it, both John Green and Indianapolis have something to be proud of.