Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

This is a spoiler-free review.

And, this is my 100th post on this blog! So I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all my readers. I appreciate your support and encouragement -- you are all wonderful. Here's to the next 100! Now on to The Fault in Our Stars...

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) has cancer in her lungs. Terminal. It's really a miracle she's lasted as long as she has. But she's still dying, and she's depressed (it's a side-effect of dying) and worried about the scar she'll leave behind when the inevitable happens. So her ever patient mom (Laura Dern) sends her to a cancer support group where she has one friend -- sorta -- a soon-to-be blind dude named Isaac. (Nat Wolff) Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) had cancer at one point, and lost his leg to it, but now he's okay. He comes to the support group to, well, support his soon-to-be blind friend Isaac. And there, Hazel and Gus meet.

And with an opening like that, you can be sure that angst-filled romance is to follow.

In case you didn't know, this movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Green. It's an extremely popular book, but I'm usually not big on teen romances, especially if there's fatal illnesses involved. (And that was a big understatement.) But armed with an understanding of the awesomeness of the author, and the promise that it was better than a typical cancer romance, I gave it a shot. And if all sappy teen romance novels were as good as The Fault in Our Stars, then I probably would have read more than just one in my life.

Gus, Isaac, and Hazel may not look like much -- between the three of them they have five legs, four eyes, and two and a half working pairs of lungs. But they also have two dozen eggs.

So, as it always is with novels and their film adaptations, I already knew the best version of the story (the original is the best by rule) which I think helped and hindered my enjoyment of the film at the same time.

It helped in ways like making me even more impressed by already impressive acting and characterization through of my previous knowledge of the characters. Shailene Woodley was guaranteed to be a perfect Hazel from the very beginning, and she didn't disappoint. She is sweet and sullen and honest and caring and endearing and everything Hazel is supposed to be -- except not a teenager. She fakes it well of course, and Hazel is a mature sixteen-year-old anyway. Ansel Elgort matches Woodley's acting stroke for stroke for his part, and makes a very charming, adorable and accurate Gus. With the story belonging to Hazel, he received more of the dreaded Chopping Block of Adaptation, but managed wonderfully in spite of it. The two make as great pair, and I especially love how their friendship shines through their relationship more often than romantic tension.

They were obviously having fun with their roles, but not too much to spoil the performances.
 
Often with adaptations, the source material is only used as "more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules," so much so that occasionally you wonder if the writers' book was actually different from yours. The best though, are always done treating the book as a rule book, and that is what was done here. And it lands this film somewhere in my top five best book-to-film adaptations. Having John Green involved in the filming probably helped, fear of the wrath of the fans probably helped, but the biggest factor I'd say is very simple: the book demands its respect; it is unquestionably its best version this story could be. The filmmakers knew that, so they made it as similar as possible. Changes are minute and usually insignificant. But -- there are exclusions, as there always are.

Here is where knowledge of the book hindered my enjoyment. There isn't much original material that could be qualified as bad or unnecessary, so good parts are left out. Some being amongst my favorites; things I was anticipating seeing acted out on screen. It's the nature of the beast, but it still leaves empty spaces wanting to be filled. And being catered to the General Audience -- a relentlessly shallow creature -- it felt less personal than the novel.


I guess I just favored the less commonly liked parts more.

I wish I could separate the two, and judge the film without reference to the book, but they are so similar that I start every paragraph with the intention of doing just that, and still wind up using the word "adaptation" again. The film is the book, but less; and the best I can say about their differences is this: the film's best parts are different from the book's best parts, and that was very interesting and pleasing to see.

Watching the story rather than reading was enjoyable in a different way, and that plus the all-around fantastic performances from thoughtfully cast actors, and the simple, lovely look makes the film well worthy of its existence. It may not go as deep as the book, but it still goes deeper than any other films of its type that I can think of. The sap and the sentiment are both layered on as thick as it can get, but finds plenty to balance it with on the other side, with delightful light comedy and moments of honesty and sincerity. At the film's opening, our heroine tells us that there are two ways to tell sad stories: sugar-coat it, or tell it how it is. I think in this case though, the best route was taken, and it was neither; but rather a mix of sugar and honesty that made a happy, and sad, and heartfelt medium.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not is our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings. -- William Shakespeare

10 comments:

  1. Recently I decided to watch some of the "modern classic" romance movies like 500 Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and my current favorite, Silver Linings Playbook. However, I am not a fan of the series since only Silver Linings is the most one that impressed me. Anyway, I am starting on a random tangent. But what I am trying to say is that I am not sure if I will like the movie or not. Maybe I should give it a try when it comes out to rent.

    -James

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    1. Yeah, I get what you're saying. This one is pretty similar in tone to 500 Days of Summer, except aimed to a slightly younger audience -- and it's certainly aimed more to girls too, so I understand why you might not like it. If you do ever see it though, I'd be interested to read your opinion!

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  2. Congrats on the blogging milestone! I haven't jumped on the TFIOS bandwagon yet, but I did enjoy your review :-)

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    1. Thanks Hamlette! :) It's the sort of bandwagon that I wouldn't press anyone to jump onto, but if you do ever do, you'll have to let me know what you think. Thanks again!

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  3. Congratulations on your 100th post! :)

    Nice quote at the end there.

    xx

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    1. Thanks a bunch SW! :)

      Yeah, it's where the title comes from, but they never mention it in the film. Of course, in the context of the story, it's presented as being wrong, but I still like it, and think there's a lot of truth in it. :)

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  4. Happy 100th post! I don't really watch romances...at all. But I'm sure it is a good movie as far as romances go. P.S. I did watch Bridge to Teribithia...It was good

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I totally understand. And even amongst people who like romances, this movie wouldn't be for everyone. But it was very well made. Yeah, Bridge to Terabithia was sweet.

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  5. I loved this movie! :) It's not perfect - I don't think any adaptation is - but it was still beautiful and it stayed true to the characters and the book's message. My only real issue with the movie was that they didn't explain the title. That must have been confusing for those viewers who didn't read the book? But the movie was mostly faithful to the book and Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort were *perfect*. I loved that they gave Hazel voiceovers from time to time because it meant that they could include some of the book's more iconic lines.

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    1. Hear hear! :) I noticed that too, and found it very odd. It's really a pretty big problem if you think about it. Some people might get very confused! And it wouldn't have been that hard to add it in... But anyway, I agree those two were perfectly cast, and did a great job, and I was glad of the voiceovers too. Shailene Woodley has a perfect voiceover voice, and I was glad they were able to pack in so many parts of the book so directly.

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