“Fault” phenoms come to Cleveland

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them -- and us - on an unforgettable journey in A Fault In Our Stars. (James Bridges/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

The morning after an estimated 3,000 fans came to see them in Cleveland’s Tower City Center, the people associated with the movie The Fault in Our Stars were still marveling at the turnout.

They were riding a whirlwind. John Green, who wrote the novel on which Fault is based, along with actors Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff came to Cleveland on Wednesday evening as part of a four-city tour of locations chosen by fan voting. Earlier that day they had departed from their first stop, Miami. And on Thursday afternoon — after a round of print and broadcast interviews in Cleveland — they were headed to Nashville for another mall event that evening.

The crowds in Miami were so enthusiastic and dizzying that security was increased for Cleveland and beyond. It was not, Green drily noted, like his life at home in Indianapolis.

Tower City has had big crowds for celebrities before, such as when the cast of Hot in Cleveland appeared there. But the Fault lines were something else, a tribute not only to interest in the movie, which opens June 6, but also to the book on which it is based.

“The fan response is amazing,” said Elgort during a chat at the Ritz-Carlton. “I did not envision this at all when I thought we were going to go on mall tours. I imagined sitting at a table and some people coming by and saying hi. This book is big, and has a huge fan base, but I don’t know how many movies have this kind of turnout — because the book is so important to so many people.”

Green’s novel focused on the growing love between young Hazel and Augustus (Woodley and Elgort), who also have to deal with their respective cancers. It clicked dramatically with readers, particularly young adults. Entertainment Weekly not only put Woodley and Elgort on its May 9 cover, it proclaimed the book “the greatest romance story of this decade.”

Respect for the book

Woodley is no stranger to the YA-book-to-movie phenomenon, since she is the main character in a series of movies from other young-adult novels, starting with Divergent. (Elgort also had a supporting role in that film.) But as she spoke alongside Elgort, she said there was a critical difference between fans’ admiration for that fantasy movie, and those drawn to Fault.

Recalling a visit to a mall in Mexico to promote the earlier film, she said,

“They screamed the entire time, regardless of whether we talked or not. Because it was like, ‘I’m supposed to scream because that’s what you’re supposed to do for one of these types of movies.’

“With this movie [Fault], people screamed and then shut up when we started talking because they respect the book and they respect the author.”

Indeed, more than one observer noted that many fans came to Cleveland to see Green. While he has an active online presence with his brother Hank, as YouTube’s Vlogbrothers, the book is the source of his greater celebrity.

“I’ve been on tour with my brother before,” said Green during a separate conversation at the Ritz. “And we’ve been in big theaters and stuff like that, but I’ve never experienced something like this. I’ve been very grateful that people have come out. Their enthusiasm gives me energy to get through the next month.”

Respect for characters

It’s an enthusiasm based not only on the book’s plot, but also on the way Fault is very clear and direct about the effects of devastating illness, respectful of its characters and still willing to be funny and sharp-witted for the sake of realism. For instance, Wolff’s character, Isaac, has lost one eye to cancer as the story begins, then loses the other. Still, Woolf said while talking in tandem with Green, Isaac “is the funniest character in the book. But there’s also the harsh reality of going blind. so he didn’t become a joke.”

Told that being part of this kind of sensation would make the challenge of another book seem terrifying, Green said, “I was a lot more scared writing my first novel [Looking for Alaska] and not knowing if it would ever get published, not knowing if anyone would read it. It’s a lucky kind of pressure that I have now. It is challenging at times. I’m lucky to have other kinds of work that I love. I’m lucky to have a lot of work on online video, and I’m focusing on that right now. I’m sure that once this madness has passed, I’ll be back at work on a new book.”

Respect for readers

And doubtless, eager young readers will be waiting for it. Wolff noted that young people asked terrific questions during the mall tour because “the kids are all smart, and they’re all readers, and they all want John to like them, and John’s so smart, he’s like a rock star to them.”

“I do like them,” Green added. “I admire them. Because I wasn’t like them in high school.”

Fault, in fact, has been held up as a demonstration of young people actually reading books. Green concedes a difference between Fault and fantasy series like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games — that Fault is “not sweeping.” But he admits some discomfort with the idea that young adults are so selective in their reading choices that it takes something like Fault to attract them.

“It’s a little frustrating to me when there’s this narrative that teenagers don’t read for pleasure when, in fact, they are reading for pleasure. They’re reading lots of books for pleasure. Yes, there are these big hit books that get national-news attention. There are also hundreds and hundreds of young-adult novels that are read by tens of thousands of teenagers.

“And those teenagers find those books without the Today show, and without all that press. I wish that, as a community, we credited teenagers with the intelligence that they have.”

And Fault certainly credits them, both as characters and as readers.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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