As you may know if you read the recent review of “Bridge To Terabithia,” my criteria for books as a young person was hopefully, that no one would die in a freak accident or even die period: animal or human. Unless I knew it was coming, and then I would happily reread the book. Of course, if it was about an Important Subject like cancer, you were pre-prepared as it were. When I was in elementary school, one of our teachers read us a YA novel about a teen with cancer, probably to cheer us up from having recently watched the space shuttle “Challenger” explode live on TV. Unlike John Green’s novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” a bestselling YA novel made into a movie a couple of years ago, I don’t remember anyone dissolving into tears (on either occasion), but when I went to the movie version of “The Fault,” there was much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I think the difference between a book like “The Fault,” and your average issue-of-the-week YA novel is that in the former, teens are portrayed more as they would ideally like to see themselves: profound, philosophical, etc. with a minimum of the traits that come with raging hormones. Call it the Salinger effect.
In “The Fault in Our Stars,” Shailene Woodley plays a teen with cancer whose parents force her to attend a support group which she is not particularly happy about. Of course, anyone who has ever seen a teen movie before knows that the solution is simple: find a kindred spirit/love interest or a group of them. In another John Green book, “Looking For Alaska,” this takes place at a boarding school – “The Fault,” is basically the same with the school swapped for a support group, and then later, Amsterdam. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Most of the movie takes place in the U.S. of A. where things start looking up when Shailene meets a slightly older guy (Ansel Elgort) and his friend (also with cancer) Nate Wolff. They form a snarky trio, and Shailene and Ansel fall for each other, exchanging their favorite books. Ansel’s is by an author whose plot echoes that of Shailene’s real story, which gives the movie a chance to travel to Europe. Eventually, after heavy parental pleading, Shailene and Ansel do just that in order to track down the author (Willem Dafoe) of the book in person and ask him the kinds of questions he probably moved to avoid having passionate fans find him and answer. At one point, they declare their love in the Anne Frank house, which was the moment I remember best because during that scene, the girl sitting two seats away from me began crying with a passion I could not muster if someone had actually died in front of me.
Luckily, or unluckily, there are plenty more tear-jerking moments to come in “The Fault,” as this is a double funeral movie, plus the author chooses to have a character pre-read his eulogy. It even made me tear up, and it kept the ushers busy picking up mounds of Kleenex before the movie ended, so that no one would trip on them on the way out, injure themselves and sue. I’m going to assume it’s faithful to the source material, and certainly, the cast does a great job. The theme of the book/movie is that although we can’t choose to get hurt, we can choose those who wind up hurting us, or something like that. Personally, this is as appealing as the theme of another, earlier YA cancer movie: “Love Story,” in which one of the characters sagely explains to the other that love, “means never having to say you’re sorry.” Still death is definitely a more appealing subject when it strikes the young and articulate on film, and because it freezes you forever in that early moment in time, tragedy is always heightened. Also, it helps if the deaths are so sad they trigger the majority of the movie theater because then you don’t have to say you’re sorry for crying either.