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The Great Leveler

[embedyt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwfZyQeinTI[/embedyt]Love me tender/Love me sweet Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) serenades Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) in the final scene of Wild at Heart (1990), my belated coming-of-age love story.  In one of the many memorable scenes of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) convinces Lula to beg him to shag her, only to spurn her begging away. That’s a prefect Dafoe moment. The perfect son-of-a-bitch because he walks at his own pace, one incomprehensible to most. The movie was perfect Lynch.  Love was still hard to get last century, but if you were young you could hope to get it for a while. Or at least, Hollywood thought it could sell that message.

The Fault in Our Stars (2014) is a new coming-of-age story for the young at heart. Like Wild at Heart, it is also based on a novel, though a more pretentious one: The title is inspired from Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, in which the nobleman Cassius says to Brutus:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

This time around the fault is in the stars. Anyway, like the book, the movie winks a lot at high art. For instance,Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are played by a street band in the cultured Europe, more precisely in Amsterdam, the place where nice people tried to save Anne Frank only to have her shipped from one prison –in Amsterdam – to another prison in Auschwitz. And if this mention startles you, it is because the movie brought up Anne’s plight. One ounce fascism and two ounces cancer, and a little bit of Dom Perignon. That’s the movie’s cocktail of collateral damage and guilt of the survivors! Don’t mumble, this is entertainment at its finest: you cry, you laugh, you cry and then cry more.

The Fault in Our Stars is being labeled as the love story of this summer: a sixteen-year-old cancer patient – level IV – named Hazel, who is forced by her parents to attend a support group, subsequently meets and falls in love with the seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee, and also a cancer patient – with cancer spread all over.

Its message, as I heard it, is that funerals are better when you are still alive. Eulogies are the new sonnets and in this life the most you can hope is to you choose your drug. Sorry. Your pain.

Too one-dimensional?  Unbearably so, but alas Bobby Peru is let loose, again. Oops! Here I come again with Lynch on my mind. But, we could say that there is a Wild at Heart reunion of sorts. Laura Dern is the overbearing but good-intentioned mother this time. This time the mother does not get entangled with Bobby. The protagonist’s boyfriend does…I won’t make any other remark.

Bobby Peru. If Dafoe could not steal Lynch’s movie a decade ago because Lynch’s master piece is star-studded, this time he does.  Perhaps because now, in Josh Boone’s movie, Anne Frank is his only competition (the main character is supposed to be a today’s Anne Frank, if you did miss my earlier hint). Dafoe v. Anne Frank…The vampire v… too much Dafoe detail.

Back to this summer love story. You might have thought that cancer was the great leveler in this review of a rather too pretentious formulaic melodrama. (You cannot remember Love Story (1970) but you may still rent it on NetFlix to get a taste of Hollywood’s then belief that Ivy League education was still possible for the bright at heart, and for a cathartic cry.)  If so, you missed my point, because I have good news for you.


If you are not a 13-year old girl, still go and see The Fault in Our Stars for  Willem Dafoe. The movie is indeed a short love story: that between you and Willem Dafoe.



SOUR GRAPES: The Great Leveler


  1. I always like Willem Dafoe, along with Platoon and Faraway so close, I remember him from movies that I don’t otherwise remember (writing in journals that he throws away when they’re full, pouring cheap cologne on himself and licking it when it drips down his arm)

    I remember Cage in the same way, those were the days – doesn’t he start Wild at Heart smashing someone’s head over and over against the floor? 

    I’ll have to content with my past dalliances with Dafoe, I’m glad I had your review and can skip the movie: I worry myself about bad things happening to young people enough already, thanks. 

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