Reflections After Watching and Reading 'The Fault in Our Stars'
A Little Background
I joined the masses in seeing The Fault in Our Stars opening weekend, curious to see how well the film was adapted from the book. I’m not typically into teen fiction, usually because they’re usually based in fantasy or are way too sappy, but I gave The Fault in Our Stars a chance, mainly because I’m a sucker for cancer stories. I’ve never had cancer myself. I’ve known people who have had cancer and even people who have died from cancer, but none of them were close friends or family. It’s just such a prevalent and horrific disease, though, that I’m fascinated by it the way that I’m fascinated by disaster stories and other hard topics.
After reading the book and thoroughly enjoying it, I subscribed to author, John Green’s YouTube Channel, the Vlogbrothers, despite being several years ahead in age of his target demographic. Through his channel, you get to know the author and his brother, Hank Green, a musician. Subscribers watch the two brothers talk to each other and discuss various topics from pop culture to nerd culture to politics and family. The subscribers have become a kind of community known as Nerdfighters, and they join together to raise money for charity, celebrate common interests and just generally feel less alone in the world. This built-in community of readers may have helped to contribute to the film’s success, but many others seem to have caught on as well.
Despite being a cancer story, a terminal cancer story, it isn’t the downer that you think it would be. Our hero, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is a sarcastic and pretty much hopeless case, at least to her doctors. She has been deemed terminal since the age of 13. Now 17, a miracle drug has prolonged her life. However, Hazel is pretty much just waiting around to die at the beginning of the story. She has no desire to leave a mark on the world, but she’s not a downer either. Hazel has deep thoughts and a funny, sarcastic wit about her in the book and the film. She has that young wisdom that only a dying person can have without being a pity case. She spends day after day reading her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, over and over again. She doesn’t live in teen world; she doesn’t go to school or go out with friends or even date, that is, until she meets Augustus Waters.
Augustus is an 18-year-old cancer survivor who shares her dry wit and love of deep thoughts. He could easily have rejoined his peers in going to school and continuing being a star basketball player, but instead he decides to accompany his friend, Isaac to a cancer support group. This is where he meets Hazel, who was forced to attend by her mother, worried about her daughter’s mental health as much as her physical. Here, the story takes off.
Only, the story doesn’t have to take off. There are no vampires chasing them or fights to the death. The two bond over An Imperial Affliction and embark on a text-message and email based quest to gain the attention of the novel’s author, Peter Van Houten, who no longer writes and now lives in Amsterdam. After Augustus succeeds in getting himself an invite to meet this reclusive writer, he and Hazel, after a few major road blocks, embark on a journey to Amsterdam to take Van Houten up on his offer to visit him and seek some answers about what happens to the characters after his novel ends. What otherwise would be considered a disastrous turn of events turns into the love story that is meant to be. Unlike other young love stories where you wish they’d just slow it down and not take things so intense, knowing that Hazel has so little, though an indefinite amount of time on earth, you find yourself saying, “finally” when they get together in the Anne Frank house.
With such a strong following, the filmmakers must have felt the fans breathing down their necks to get the story right. Based on the box office sales this weekend, it appears that they have. In my opinion, the filmmakers used the tricks and techniques of the medium to their full advantage. Using montages, voiceovers and blending of scenes, they are able to pull off a full, well paced film that stays true to the story and only shortens the details while keeping the tone intact. They also have the advantage of being able to show how ugly and painful living with cancer can be: the needle pokes, the fight to breathe, the loss of independence. Yet, you don’t see too much of this because cancer is not the central focus of the story. You won’t see the characters stuck in bed, losing their hair or saying heartfelt goodbyes from a hospital room. Cancer is the elephant in the room, but it is not the main attraction.
I can’t really compare it to any other film. The main plot points sound like the artsy details an independent movie, but it’s shot like a big budget feature. It remembers to play up the humor when necessary and unleashes the unbearable sad truths at just the right moments. Every scene is important. Nothing is put in there just for show or to stay true to a particular genre.
The three acts are broken up into three equal slices: pre-Amsterdam, Amsterdam and Post-Amsterdam. Whenever it passed over a scene or character or section of the book, the script made up for it by making the scenes on screen that much more powerful. One scene in particular that I really responded to in the movie in a way that I didn’t in the book was during the scene at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Hazel’s lungs are filled with tumors, making it difficult to breathe. So, she is constantly being fed oxygen through a nasal cannula. The Anne Frank house does not have an elevator so Hazel is forced to climb three sets of stairs to reach the top of the museum. It’s painful and inspiring without being over-the-top dramatic.
That brings me to the performances. Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff nailed it in their parts, playing Hazel, Augustus and Isaac respectively. Their performances seem effortless. They do not waver in any scene, bringing realism to the overly intelligent dialogue spoken in the book as well as in the script. They come from a different world than the healthy audience members watching the movie, yet they have the same fears and interests and sense of humor that we do. The adults do a great job as well.
The parents tend to come off a little one dimensional, but this is how they come across in the book as well. Besides, it is not their story. They’re there to physically and emotionally support their children while being heartbroken by their children’s circumstances, and they do this well.
Willem Dafoe was not who I had in mind to play Peter Van Houten, and I was sad that one of my favorite scenes in the book was not included, but this is not Van Houten’s story either, despite the fact that he has an interesting story to tell and is one of those characters that you love to hate, even though I hated him more in the movie than I loved him in the book.
Trailer for the Movie
Will you go to see 'The Fault In Our Stars' in theaters?
In saying this, don’t feel ashamed to go see this movie if you’ve already been to your senior prom. If you want to see an unconventional, as far from a Lifetime TV movie as you can get story about living with the knowledge that your time is almost up and taking advantage of the time that you have on earth, even if you aren’t going to do something extraordinary with that time, go ahead and see The Fault In Our Stars. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this title end up in a few Oscar categories, and I’m hoping that future filmmakers take a cue from the tone and direction and pacing and continue to make more movies that are small and simple but mean something and appeal to the masses.
SCENES FROM THE BOOK THAT THE FILMMAKERS GOT RIGHT
SCENES FROM THE BOOK THAT I MISSED IN THE MOVIE
The trophy breaking scene
Scenes with Hazel’s friend, Kaitlyn
Hazel’s trip to the ER
Hazel visiting Isaac after his surgery
Dinner in Amsterdam (despite not being outside along the canal)
Selling the swing set
Visiting Van Houten
The gas station scene
The poem Hazel makes up in the ambulance
Hazel reconciles with Van Houten
The dreaded phone call