The Fault in Our Eyeballs: SparkLife Attends The Night Before Our Stars Screening
Last night, in 650 theaters across the country, Temple Hill Entertainment chopped enough onions to make five thousand lasagnas. There were piercing screams when John Green popped up on screen at the beginning to tell everyone to participate in #askTFIOS after the movie, and the tears, sobs, and nose-blows started as soon as the first human was glimpsed in the movie. I checked the #askTFIOS hashtag after the film, before the cast and crew did a live Q&A from Atlanta, and found a common sentiment coursing beneath the nation's stadium seating:
— Kara H (@HaynesKara) June 6, 2014
#AskTFIOS Does John Green feed on the sobs of fangirls?
— Gianna (@gianna_abby) June 6, 2014
#asktfios THE WHOLE THEATER ROOM IM IN JUST SCREAMED AND DID A 100 PPL GROUP HUG IS THAT OKAY? OKAY.
— Blaze (@Elizablaze) June 6, 2014
It is a very good film, Sparklers. Ansel Elgort glows on screen as Augustus: his flirting powers are atomic; his smile is so infectious that even the adults in the film get a bit giddy. When he wraps his big old paws around Hazel, your heart will run into a kennel and curl up into a ball. You will not be able to avoid it. He is lovely, he is lovable, he is gorgeous, he is golden, he is as immortal and unforgettable and extraordinary as this character could possibly be. No wonder John Green spent the entire production process weeping into his hankie.
Then there is Hazel. Shailene is a tough little trojan, a pretty petal, a weak child and a headstrong adult. The way she wears that nasal cannulae, we are ALL going to be wearing them by next week. Cannulae are clearly the new feather earrings. She has so much human inside of her you will probably burst at the seams. The girls next to me certainly did. Hazel's capacity for love is space-bag-like. How does she do it when she's so tiny?! How does she fit all the feels in life into a finite 125 minutes?!! Perhaps the only person with a face more empathetic is Laura Dern, who plays Hazel's mother. If Hazel is stranded somewhere between childhood and adulthood, between life and death, between a rich, vital inner life and a quietly populated outer life, Frannie is stranded between parenthood and bereavement: "There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen, and that's having a kid who bites it from cancer." Dern's face will mirror your own face as you meet Gus, and travel to Amsterdam, and suffer through the side effects of dying.
I focus on the overflowing storm drains at the bottom of the theater, the bubbling gutters full of tears, but this is also a very, very, very funny movie. Mike Birbiglia, who plays the Jesus-lovin', guitar-playin' uno-testiculared support-group leader Patrick, will have you chortling from the first moment in the film. Nat Wolff, AS WE WARNED YOU, is a gem. Holy moley does this guy manage to make losing your sight seem manageable, and friends the antidote to any worldly problem. The other big laughs come as Hazel and Gus deliver the lines you already know by heart--each of these collective laughs were accompanied by crying jags. So many jags in this theater, team.
If you haven't read the book, will you love this movie? I think it is pretty likely. The criticism that I have read more than once, of both the book and the film, is that it is "manipulative"--that it romanticizes teen cancer, in the way that Romeo and Juliet romanticized teen suicide, but the people who think this are missing the joke. Romeo and Juliet, beset by the raging hormones of early adolescence (13!) topped themselves, unable to imagine a life without each other; Gus and Hazel want anything but to opt out. They want another day, a slightly bigger infinity, a way for their story not to be one of dying. This is what John Green was doing when he wrote the book; setting out to write a book about cancer that isn't about cancer. The cancer is just a side effect of the story, of growing up.
So did I win my own no-cry challenge? Did I, a stoic Manley who has sat through funerals steely eyed, keep a lid on the aquatechnics?
PAIN DEMANDS TO BE FELT, SPARKLERS. Ed Sheerans above! Trying to hold the tears in made my eyes feel like batteries sitting in acid.
The only way I could have cried more would be if Hazel and Gus were a cat and a dog separated when one of them floats down a river in a milk crate by accident. I shed so many calories dropping rain in the theater that I woke up today with a brand new pair of triceps sitting on my arm bones. Yes, I have cried myself to a taut new body.
And it's NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE CANCER. It's because this film will dial you into all your subterranean feels. This film is about hope and wanting your life to mean something, and the grief that comes with growing up, and facing the oblivion.
GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE, AND GIVE YOUR EYEBALLS AN ENEMA.
***BONUS GOSSIP ABOUT THE FILM GLEANED FROM THE Q&A AFTER THE SCREENING***
The bonus live Q&A (which will probably end up on the web!) began with two songs performed live by Birdy, after which they brought in Ansel, Shailene, John, Nat, director Josh Boone, and producer Wyck Godfrey. At the top, Shailene was straight-out crying in her chair, wiping her face on her shirt and speaking under her breath to Nat, "I'm covered in snot"--which of course was picked up by her mic. It would appear that the teary Shailene was reacting to the PRETTY DARN MOVING Birdy performance. Crying is also just a side effect of life as a sunbeam. You don't get the rainbows without the rain, people.
The cast then took questions from Twitter. One girl from Peach Tree City, Georgia, asked John Green if it was hard to "kill a character." Green went into a fantastic verbal jig that started, "let me be clear: I have never killed anyone... I have worked hard for 36 years not to be a murderer." Everyone was like <3 <3 <3 and then he went off into a very Gus-ian rant about how "I have bad news for you, everyone in Peach Tree City will die." It was hysterical and genius and you must find that video.
Nat Wolff helpfully leans forward at one point to add, "I don't want to spoil anything, but there is some cancer in this movie."
There is a discussion about the omission of Sisyphus the hamster from the movie. The cast probe John Green to reveal the "backstory" of Sisyphus after Anna dies in An Imperial Affliction, and he shares his authorial knowledge that the hamster is lactose intolerant but can eat gluten. We all rest easy knowing that Sisyphus goes on after the death of a loved one.
There is an anecdote about the time that Shailene was stung by a bee as she filmed the "It's a metaphor" scene with Ansel. Apparently the bee got trapped between her nasal cannulae and had no choice but to sting her, which upset our poor Shailene, because that meant he was going to die. She seemed still to be affected by this death, plaintively telling her cast members, "We need to feel bad when we get stung by a bee because we need bees!"
One fan asked about the emotional link the actors had to their characters, and Ansel assured them that "Every time a tear rolls down Gus's face it's rolling down mine." Like we didn't already figure THAT out. *tears and goldfish*
Did you see it yet? How are your eyeballs?