I loved the YA novel The Fault in Our Stars, but after I saw the movie version, I had some questions, so I decided to consult the world’s foremost Fault In Our Stars authority, my perfect teenage daughter, Jennifer. Jennifer has gone through at least five copies of the book, including a version in which she crossed out the heroine’s name and replaced it with her own, and another copy where she used different color highlighters to mark the sections where she cried, the exact section where she first fell in love with the book’s hero, and the sentences which she thought would make good song lyrics for a collaboration between Taylor Swift, Lorde and Hermione from the Harry Potter books. She also has a copy where she ripped out the last ten pages and wrote a different ending, in which the hero’s dying words are, “I only wish I could’ve met and loved Jennifer Gelman-Waxner, and that we could’ve made hand-beaded rubber-band bracelets together.”
As everyone probably knows, TFIOS is about a tragic but inspirational love affair between two teenagers with cancer. In the movie, these teenagers are played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, and I asked Jennifer, “Now, I think that Shailene and Ansel are fantastic, and not just because their names sound like characters on Game of Thrones. But is it medically true that when teenagers get cancer, their skin becomes even more radiantly flawless?” “SHUT UP!” Jennifer replied. “I knew that you would say something like that, because you’re old and you don’t have a soul! Shailene and Ansel have beautiful skin because they’re filled with poetry and it comes out of their pores!”
Then I asked Jennifer about about the leading characters’ names, which are Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. “I think those are great names,” I said, “but aren’t they a teeny bit like the names you’d give to really attractive Hobbits, or to the main characters on a Victorian soap opera? And why does Augustus always have to call her Hazel Grace, and she keeps calling him by both his names as well?” “YOU ARE SO STUPID!” Jennifer howled. “They have those names because they’re both beautiful human beings who understand the truth of the universe, and if they were named Amy and Bruce they wouldn’t understand ANYTHING!”
I forged ahead, and asked, “Are we allowed to notice how incredibly caucasian this movie is? Everyone in it is seriously white and suburban, and they live in rooms from the Pottery Barn catalogue and drive shiny SUVs, and Augustus wears the most spotless athletic outfits I’ve ever seen. And when the characters go on a trip, they head for Amsterdam, maybe because it’s featured in that travel guide called International Destinations Where White People Will Feel Comfortable.” “YOU ARE SUCH AN UNBELIEVABLE PIG PERSON!” Jennifer screamed. “The characters are white so they can have nice bedspreads and coordinated bedroom wall murals! And they go to Amsterdam for a very good reason! And I’m sure that a lot of minorities live in Amsterdam and ride bicycles and walk along the canals, but maybe they were all at work that day! Did you ever think about that, MOM?”
I kept going, because I really needed to know something else: “Jennifer, when Shailene and Ansel are in Amsterdam, they visit the Anne Frank house and have a makeout session in the attic, and everyone standing nearby applauds. Is this a tribute to Justin Bieber’s visit to the Anne Frank house, where he wrote in the guest book that if Anne was alive today, she’d be a Belieber?” “YOU ARE DISGUSTING!” Jennifer yelped, almost unable to speak. “They go to the Anne Frank house because Anne was a sensitive teenager just like them, and I bet that if Anne was alive today she would go see this movie like, TWENTY TIMES! And I think that Shailene would be wonderful in a movie about Anne Frank, and Jennifer Lawrence could play her best friend Caitlin!”
“Alright, let’s just calm down,” I said soothingly.”because I only have one last question. At the end of the movie, all of the teenage girls around me were sobbing, and texting their friends. Do you think that this movie was a realistic portrait of love and illness, or just a wonderful romantic fantasy about incredibly attractive young movie stars trading quips and wearing cute wool hats?” Jennifer took a deep breath and after a long pause she said, “Mom, I’m gonna try not to strangle you, because I know that since you’re over 40 you have brain arthritis and all of your emotions have turned into, like, wads of cholesterol. But this movie told the truth, about how even totally cute people can get sick, but if they meet just the right totally cute other people, then they can support each other and sometimes not say anything at all, because they’re listening to the amazing songs on the soundtrack. And after I saw this movie I knew that someday I will meet a seriously cute boy and that even if he dies I will honor his memory by maintaining my bangs. Because that’s what love means.”
“But what if I died?” I asked. “Well, that would be incredibly sad,” Jennifer said, thoughtfully. “And I would cry really hard and I would miss you forever. But if they made a movie about it, on the opening weekend, it wouldn’t beat, say, X-Men.” “I understand that,” I said. “But would it beat, say, Jersey Boys?” “Duh,” said Jennifer, and then we hugged, because that was all I needed to hear, if you ask me.