Today, we don't want vampires. We want realism.
Yesterday The Fault in Our Stars became the most "liked" movie trailer on YouTube. Garnering 273, 262 likes to date, the two-and-a-half minute trailer has racked up 17 million views. It's beat out the formerly most-liked trailer ever, the One Direction: This Is Us documentary. It's already one of the most popular movies ever, and it doesn't even come out until June 6th.
What makes The Fault in Our Stars — the story of a teenage girl fighting terminal cancer and her whirlwind romance with a boy from her support group — so virally likeable? It's based on a 2012 novel by critically-acclaimed YA author John Green, so it already has a built-in fanbase. But more likely, it tells the kind of story that teenagers are ardently craving lately — a true one.
Of course, the formula for turning favorite young adult and children's novels into hit movies is not a particularly recent phenomenon. The age of the YA film struck in 1997 with the thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer, based upon a Lois Duncan book of the same title. Then came an onslaught of wildly popular movies based upon young adult series: The Princess Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Chronicles of Narnia, Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and, most recently, Divergent. In these YA films, the teenage experience exists far beyond the walls of high school: teens become royalty, they lead revolutions against dystopian regimes, they possess magical powers, and become their race's chosen one. Teens are given worldly significance. For a time, this elevated fantasy paid off, and escape was the most demanded cinematic experience. The Twilight franchise grossed a collective $3 billion at the box office. Vampire-werewolf-human love triangles existed for a reason; they engaged and empowered a group that is demographically voiceless.
But more and more, teens don't want wizards, wands, and glittery vampires, they want a hint of truth that touches upon their own experiences. Even if those experiences are pretty shitty, even if, like The Fault in Our Stars, it examines the horrifying truths of illnesses that impact our mothers, our grandfathers, ourselves. It's all about realism, and that's probably a good thing. Recent films like Perks of Being a Wallflower ($33 million at the box office), Spectacular Now, ($6 million at the box office), and soon The Fault in Our Stars (it will gross a lot) touch upon the vulnerability of teen identities, how awkward young love really is, and the inner lives of social outcasts. Verisimilitude has replaced Voldemort.
As Hazel, the main character of TFIOS, explains in the trailer, "I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories. On the one hand, you can sugar coat it. Nothing is too messed up that it can't be fixed by a Peter Gabriel song. I like that version just as much as the next girl does. It's just not the truth."
This is the new YA film — it's full of overlooked teens, tear-jerking romances, extrapolations on what "infinity" is, and most likely, a whole lot of Shailene Woodley.
Image via Temple Hill Entertainment.