“One Sick Love Story”

Yesterday, the first official poster for next summer’s release The Fault in Our Stars exploded onto the internet. It’s a highly anticipated film, so that’s not particularly surprising, but people were not all responding positively. A lot of people loved the poster but balked at the tagline – and understandably. At first glance, I was not a fan of the tagline either. It seems insensitive and brash, especially in comparison to the pictured couple, Hazel and Augustus (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort).

But let’s back up a bit. I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on my list) but I have read some of author John Green‘s other work, and it is not known for being conventional. He writes touching stories, but they don’t fit the mould on traditional storylines. Let’s call him a more realistic Nicholas Sparks. Yes, he writes about romance – but no, they’re nothing like the cookie-cutter stories Sparks has churned out. Don’t get me wrong, I am female and I am a sucker for The Notebook, but let’s face it – most of what Sparks writes is nothing like how real life works.

But back to the topic at hand. Hollywood Life covered the controversy and John Green responded to it on his tumblr saying, “I like the tag line. I found it dark and angry in the same way that Hazel is (at least at times) dark and angry in her humor. I mostly wanted something that said, ‘This is hopefully not going to be a gauzy, sentimental love story that romanticizes illness and further spreads the lie that the only reason sick people exist is so that healthy people can learn lessons.’ But that’s not a very good tag line. I like the tag line because it says, literally, the sick can also have love stories. Love and joy and romance are not just things reserved for the well.” This comes after a statement that he did not write the tagline, nor was it in any way his decision on what the tagline should be or how the poster should look. Fair enough.

And what he was most nervous about was fans seeing Hazel and Augustus together for the first time – the responses to which were overwhelmingly positive. He also made a great point in that they put Hazel (Woodley) on the poster with clear indication that she is sick. She is not made to look glamorous, even as the female half of a romance movie.

Also, a major Hollywood studio released a movie poster in which the female romantic lead has visible evidence of her disability, which is damn near unprecedented, and I’m thrilled they put her face—and her cannula—on the poster.

So there is a lot to like about the poster, and maybe the appeal of the tagline just takes looking at it from a different perspective. And isn’t that kind of what Green’s work is about? Taking what could be filled with cliche after cliche and actually making it culturally relevant and more heartfelt than many other books and films within his genre. Yes, at first the tagline rubbed me the wrong way, but taking a step back I don’t feel so negatively about it after all.

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