Archive | Book Matters

‘Violette’ Is No Bed of Roses

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.

Violette, about French author Violette Leduc’s quest for success, may be the ultimate literary love story: At core, it depicts how the creative process can be seen as a love affair, both with ourselves and with an imagined audience. It takes a lot of fortitude to sit still with the imagination – to trust that, if we hang in there, we may produce something worth sharing with the world. In this sense, Leduc, who throughout her career had the temerity to demand love for her controversial self-expression, was powerfully strong if also powerfully frustrating. Much like this movie.

To be clear, “frustrating” is putting it nicely. Radical self-exposure was Leduc’s strength in her writing but her weakness as a person, a fact that director/co-writer Martin Provost captures in excruciating detail. French actress Emmanuelle Devos channels Leduc’s inability to contain her rawest feelings – her jealousies, her resentments, her neediness – so effectively that the result is an almost unbearable character. Almost. A woman who won’t rest until she is wanted on her own terms may not be an easy story but it is an important one. Continue Reading →

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Delivers

The following is a review originally published in Word and Film.

The movie does justice to the book. I’ll start there, since that’s the most important news about The Fault in Our Stars for the multitudes already in love with John Green’s book. For those unfamiliar with this best-selling young adult novel about a romance between two teens with cancer, there’s also good news: To dig this movie, we don’t need to be in love with the book.

But let’s pull back, shall we?

Sixteen-year-old Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is depressed. The Stage IV thyroid cancer that has “colonized her lungs” may have stabilized but she could relapse at any moment. Not to mention that it’s hard to lead a typical adolescent existence when she has to lug an oxygen tank everywhere and has been staring down death since the age of thirteen. So Hazel holes up in her bedroom rereading An Imperial Affliction, a story (within this story) about a child with cancer, while her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) worry.

Things change when Hazel’s mom forces her to attend a support group for kids with cancer (led by a Jesus freak played by comedian Mike Birbiglia). There, she meets the irrepressible Gus (Ansel Elgort), a seventeen-year-old former basketball star who’s lost a leg to a sarcoma now in remission. Gus announces he “fears oblivion,” which sparks sharp words from the pragmatically philosophical Hazel. (There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.) “Sparks” being the relevant word, the two commence a courtship and travel together to Amsterdam to track down Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), the author of Affliction. Then the Big C makes a rude reentry. Continue Reading →

My Day With the (Fault in Our) Stars

The following is a report I originally published in Word and Film.

Ordinarily I avoid any occasion at which people are likely to shriek but I caught myself requesting – nay, begging – to attend a recent The Fault in Our Stars event. This, despite the fact that it promised to be a veritable shriekfest. Like so many others, I am absolutely in love with the book from which it’s adapted.

The good news: The movie does justice to the book. Without disclosing any spoilers, it’s safe to say Shailene Woodley is an ideal Hazel and Ansel Elgort an ideal Gus. Also on point: Nat Wolff as Isaac, Gus’s best friend, and Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel’s parents. Along with director Josh Boone and author Green, they were all in attendance for a post-screening Q&A as well as a press conference the next day. Here are six things to know about this event. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy