Mt. Lebanon church channels Hollywood with 'Fault in Our Stars' screening



It was like Oscar night and prom rolled into one.

Thursday night, men and women of all ages gathered at the Galleria of Mt. Lebanon in anticipation of the night's main event: a screening of the film “The Fault in Our Stars,” adapted from John Green's best-selling teen novel. Wearing dresses and suits — or, for a fancy few, gowns and tuxedos — most of the filmgoers, more than 300, chose to go Hollywood.

But for many of these attendees, the film had added significance in their community. The evening, which began with a gala-style red carpet event before the screening, was organized and planned by St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon — which was used as one of the film's set locations. In the movie, main characters Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort), two teens who meet during a cancer support group that is held within the walls of a church.

Lisa Brown, the church's communications director and its children's ministry director, said she fondly remembers when the film was being shot at the church in fall 2013. As the church is near the neighborhood schools, teenagers would arrive on set in order to meet Mr. Green and the film's stars after classes ended, oftentimes dodging police officers. Ms. Brown said she wanted to capitalize on that excitement.

She remembered thinking, “Hollywood came to us, so let’s celebrate and try to channel a little bit of Hollywood.”

Months later, the night turned out as glamorous and exciting as she envisioned, with the help of some of the church’s youth. But while most of the attendees broke out their formalwear for the event, some chose to dress casually or to sport alternate costumes.

Grace Bailey, Grace Meyer and Emma Uffelman, three 13-year-old friends, dressed in matching homemade shirts that mimic the book cover's color scheme and text bubbles, fizzed with excitement while waiting for the movie to begin.

"I'm so excited!" Emma chirped.

"We're obsessed," Grace Bailey added.

The sold-out event was open to non-churchgoers in the community as well. Callie Gunzenhauser, 18, said she is not affiliated with the church, but she “camped out” when the movie was being filmed there and was able to meet Mr. Green and Mr. Elgort.

Many attendees who were involved with the church said its presence in the film was fitting due to the movie's themes of support, hope and mortality.

“These are the big questions about life that any person grapples with,” said Ms. Brown. “The fact that he deals with them with such honest and unflinching voice and with a lot of humor — I think they really relate to that.”

The Rev. Jeff Murph, a parent who attended the event and the rector of St. Thomas Memorial Church in Oakmont, found the film’s depiction of the church’s support particularly compelling. He said he could relate because he has a son who was diagnosed with cancer last year and appeared in the support group scene as an extra. His son has since completed his chemotherapy treatment.

“What’s interesting to me is that in the film, the context of [Hazel and Augustus'] support ... usually is the church,” Mr. Murph said. “That was kind of true to life for me because the church really did support us. I don’t know how people manage without that kind of support.”


Wesley Yiin: wyiin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1723.

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