Not as ugly as real cancer, but still good
Let me tell you about cancer. It’s ugly. It’s pissing your pants, it’s vomiting, it’s turning into a different person because your liver has turned into a mess of tumours and now your brain is poisoned. It’s anger, it’s fear, it’s falling and falling and falling and unlike Alice you’ve got no book to read, no rocking chair to sit in and no cute little rabbit to follow. You don’t see a thing. It’s a big black void and you try to claw your fingers into the wall to stop falling, but you just keep going. It’s out of your control.
I’m not speaking from my own experience. As far as I know I haven’t got cancer. Yet. But I’ve had a close family member dying from it way too young, so the odds that I’ll get it aren’t what I’d like them to be. And all of this has made me take a close look at cancer, closer that you’d want to. And if you’ve been fortunate enough to never encounter it I can assure you: It’s ugly, so ugly that it’s impossible to make a completely honest movie about it. At least not if you want people to watch it outside of film festivals. We’re only humans. There are things that we don’t want to see quite the way they are until the day when we don’t have any choice. Especially not if you’re young and still innocent when it comes to the dark side of life.
As much as the audience can take
Hazel and Gus, the young cancer-stricken love couple in The Fault in our stars, don’t quite have that terminal illness look the way I’ve seen it. They look pretty gorgeous, even when they’re at their most vulnerable shape in hospital. But I don’t hold it against the film; I believe it goes as far as you can in terms of honesty in this kind of movie, showing as much as the main audience, approximately 13-20 year olds, can take.
I watched it in company with my 20 year old daughter and her friend. My daughter’s friend cried so much that she “couldn’t breathe”, as she said afterwards, declaring that this movie was going to replace The Notebook as her number one “cry movie”. So whenever she needs a good cry from now on, this is the one she’ll watch. I cried too, though in a more controlled, grown-up manner.
If I was more cynical I would probably have brushed those emotions off, saying that they just knew how to push the buttons. But thankfully, as you hopefully know by now, I’m not a cynic. And I also think this movie is better than that. It’s not a calculated exploitation of mechanisms that automatically make people cry. You can sense that it’s inspired by reality, by the real experiences that young people with cancer go through.
Perhaps it’s a little bit better than reality here and here, like when the couple is on a romantic date, which is more of a movie date than a real date, if you get what I mean. It’s even a little bit cheesy, especially during a scene in Anna Frank’s house, for which it’s received a lot of slack. But it’s easy to overlook those moments of cheese, because on the whole it’s just fine.
The death of the rom-com
I can’t help wondering if sorrow and melancholy has taken over as the fond for romance in cinema. There aren’t anywhere near as many rom-coms as there used to be, and frankly I don’t miss them at all. They used to be full of stereotypes where women wanted to get married and men to get laid, and the obstacles they had to overcome to make this happen got more and more contrived.
Now we see romantic movies based on difficulties, sorrow and melancholia. Mental illness in Silver Lining Playbook. Cancer disease in The Fault in Our Stars.
The rom-com is dead. The rom-mecol is here. And I’m all for it.
The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone, US 2014) My rating: 4/5