Nutshell: I give it a B+. Not a shot-for-shot retelling of the novel, but it works. Would have liked to have seen more of the realistic sturm-und-drang of illness, but otherwise Woodley and Elgort nail their roles. And any film that casts Laura Dern, Sam Trammell and Willem Dafoe is groovy in my book.
As always, clicky on the hyper-title for the original piece!
Twitview: Great cast, sweet story. If you don’t tear up by the end you’re dead inside. B+
Every so often a story comes around that taps into a zeitgeist the world never knew it had. John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, about two teens that fall in love despite the Cancer of Damocles hanging over their heads. Narrated by Hazel (Shailene Woodley, Divergent), one of the young lovers, Green seemed to nail the voice of the young and terminally ill. As a thyroid cancer survivor myself (18 years NEC!), it sounded real, and refreshing. But the sweeping adoration for the novel and it’s young protagonists was a surprise to me. Not that it’s not a good book; it’s a sweet story that you can’t help but plow through in one sitting, no matter how much you’d like to make the story last by rationing it out to yourself. But the Harry Potter/Twilight-esque love ofTFiOS puzzled me. Until now.
By bringing this story to the screen, director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) manages to show the love rather than imagine it, demonstrate exactly how difficult it is to live with illness rather than guess at it, and watch young lovers fall in love rather than see it from a single POV. The Fault in Our Stars just works.
Surrounding the leads with talented adults didn’t hurt. Laura Dern (Enlightened) plays Hazel’s mom Frannie, and Sam
Merlotte Trammell (True Blood) plays dad Michael. Willem Dafoe plays the elusive and massively weird author Peter Van Houten, who wrote Hazel’s favorite book — and plot device — “An Imperial Affliction”. But it’s Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort that are front & center here, and they both deliver. At first I’d worried that Elgort’s unreadable face would prove to be a hindrance to his portrayal of Gus, the young man who sees Hazel at a cancer support group and falls in love. But instead it works perfectly. Gus seems open, but there are things he doesn’t share with anyone, including Hazel. Of course, during the climax of the film there’s a call for him to pull out all the stops, and Elgort shifts from unreadable to All The Feelings, which was a surprise to me after his Erudite-as-robot performance in Divergent.
Harry Potter fans may be interested to note that Production Designer Molly Hughes dropped Potterverse bits all over TFiOS as a tributeHughes’s friend Stephenie McMillan, who passed away from cancer during the film. (The Wire covers all the Potter-ness well in it’s piece, including the Fox/Warner Brothers collaboration.) Speaking of production design, I love the way this film deals with the texting between Hazel and Gus. It’s not a constant flash onto their phones, but a series of animated pop-ups; transparent backgrounds, white bubbles and text, and a funky comic-sans-like font that feels like a Tumblr caption whenever it’s on screen. That nails not only the young lovers aesthetic, but the fandom’s. I’m fanning all over the soundtrack myownself. “Simple as This” by Jake Bugg, “Long Way Down” by Tom Odell, Birdy’s “Not About Angels”, and “No One Ever Loved” by Lykke Li that will bring you to tears if you have any feels at all in your cold, cold heart.
But does this film adequately show what it’s like to be young and sick? As one who has too damn much expertise in that particular field, let me say this; yes, though I’d like to have seen a touch more of the difficulty shown in the novel up on screen. There are bits where Woodley seems to recover a bit too quickly from something that would be taxing for Hazel, and Gus seems a bit too a-ok post-osteosarcoma. But the bitter witticisms as psychic armor, the cycling through the stages of grief over and over again, the fear of never Being Something or Doing The Important Thing? Nailed it. The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t give fans of the book every little detail, and cuts out sub-plots that would weigh the story down on screen (Caroline who?) But the basics are all here. The book is grittier, messier and more in-your-face. The film cleans things up a bit, and combine scenes here and there (see: Hazel leaving the house to meet Gus and his pal Isaac late in the film) but what’s sacrificed ends up helping the story flow. Can’t say I wasn’t jolted here and there though. But there are eggs! And trophies! And champagne! And cheese sandwiches!
Oh, and it’s good to know that Funky Bones is a real thing. A real thing that I now really have to visit, because it’s way cool. (What? I’m East Coast; that means I know of nothing beyond Hershey Pennsylvania. It’s a thing.)
All in all? The Fault in our Stars is just faithful enough for die-hard fans, and may bring many new one’s into the fold. “Some infinities are bigger than others.” But the little infinity of The Fault in Our Stars feels just right. Okay? Okay.