I have first hand experience, yet my disease is nothing like that experienced by Hazel Lancaster in the hit film “The Faults in our Stars”.
Sixteen-year old Hazel has stage-four thyroid cancer and should already be dead. But she is a fighter who has been helped by the blessings of modern medicine. Furthermore, she has very supportive parents. Hazel’s folks encourage her to join a support group at a local church, led by an eccentric young fellow who puts down a rug of Jesus in the basement and encourages the attendees to get to His heart.
Hazel is a realist and knows she is on the path to death, and sees no point in the group. But she goes to make her parents happy. At the first meeting, the members share the names of the diseases they are suffering from. I perked up because some of them named the acute form of my chronic illness.
My form of the disease is controlled by a pill I take once a day. This malady is slow moving. My prognosis at my age, heading into the land of old age pensions, is good.
However, those at the church are on a fast track to the grave. I am not one of those folks that criticize Big Pharma. I would probably be in as bad a shape as they if it were not for the advances they have made in the laboratory. In fact, my doctor tells me the medicine is improving all the time.
The crux of the story in “The Faults in Our Stars” is the romance that develops between Hazel and a new attendee, an 18-year old young man whose cancer has been arrested by the amputation of a leg. Augustus “Gus” Waters is a cocky, confident dude and immediately hits on Hazel without reservation during and after the meeting. Slowly, Hazel responds and the dance is on.
At times, the story is narrated by Hazel, who reflects on life in a stoic way. When she is not commenting, she is engaging Gus and her parents in debate over the meaning of it all.
In one scene, the couple discuss if there is an afterlife. Hazel isn’t inclined to believe there is, but Gus is pretty sure there has to be something after death.
At the center of their fling is a book called “An Imperial Affliction” by Amsterdam-based author Peter Van Houten. It concerns a girl with cancer. (Don’t go looking for a copy. Like the movie, it’s fictional.)
Hazel is entranced by the book and is desperate to find out its meaning because it ends in mid-sentence. Gus, who is entranced by her, agrees to read the book if Hazel also reads his about video gaming.
With the aplomb that is part of hs nature, Gus emails Van Houten’s assistant and arranges a trip to Amsterdam to meet him. Before this can happen, Hazel suffers an attack on her lungs that jeopardizes the journey. However, she is finally able to board the plane with Gus and her mother. What happens next is magical and eye opening.
I would not normally have opted for what appeared to be a chick flick for my Thursday afternoon matinee, but I was attracted to the film for several reasons. First, I was curious after “A Fault in Our Stars” destroyed the Tom Cruise vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow” at the box office when they both premiered last week.
I also had read a headline, “A Star is Born”, referring to Shailene Woodley. I had heard she has been called the next Jennifer Lawrence.
I became even more sold on viewing the film after I learned the story centers on a couple who meet in a cancer support group.
I should have figured out there was something to this flick when the theater, normally empty at 4:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon, began to garner teeny boppers and couples. There was even some young guy all by himself off in a corner.
It didn’t take me long to see that “Edge of Tomorrow” cannot hold a candle to “A Fault in Our Stars”. I was immediately enamord by the Shailene Woodley character. She is deeply moving in many scenes. Woodley lights up the screen. In fact, at this stage I would say she is a better actress than Jennifer Lawrence.
The cinematography, especially during the Amsterdam part of the story, is gorgeous. The colors leap off the screen into the senses. The pictures dramatize both the lightness and darkness of life as a cancer patient. One moment, Helen is surrounded by glitter. Another, she is sitting in a car in the pouring rain.
Indeed, “A Fault in our Stars” highlights the side effects of being a cancer patient. Depression can come with the territory. So can travel difficulties. You need to be close to the source of your equipment and meds, so a trip like the one Hazel made to Amsterdam was a major deal. Cancer survivors should see this piece of art. They will relate to many of the struggles.
The film teaches a lot of life lessons, especially at the end. I won’t give them away like that annoying GEICO pig, who in a commercial constantly playing at my local cinema informs customers of movie endings as he takes tickets in a theater.
You don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy “A Fault in our Stars.” I’m not even sure ‘enjoy’ is the correct term. But I warn you, the film is a tear jerker to the core. And it’s the best flick I’ve seen this year.