I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
The movie cover and book cover editions of "The Fault in our Stars."
A Little Background
I went to the theater to see The Fault in Our Stars in its opening weekend, curious to see how well the film was adapted from the book. I’m not typically into YA fiction, usually because they’re usually fantasy stories or are way too sappy, but I gave The Fault in Our Stars a chance, mainly because I’m a sucker for cancer stories. It's just such a prevalent and devastating disease that it always piques my interest.
After reading the book and thoroughly enjoying it, I subscribed to author John Green’s YouTube Channel, vlogbrothers, despite the fact that I'm a big older than his target demographic. Through his channel, you get to know the author and his brother, Hank Green, a musician and fellow vlogger. Subscribers watch the two long distance brothers talk to each other through their channel each week, discussing various topics from pop culture to nerd culture to politics and family.
Their subscribers have formed a 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. After all this is not an unrealistic story featuring otherworldly creatures or a flat story about one-dimensional teens trying to find a date to prom. It features real kids living with serious health issues which affects both their perspective of the world and the way they choose to live in it.
Despite being a cancer story, a terminal cancer story, it isn’t the downer that you'd 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 for an unknown amount of time.
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 that doesn't make her boring by any means. Hazel has deep thoughts and a funny, sarcastic wit about her in both 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 a typical teen life which would normally include attending high school, going out with friends, and dating, that is, until she meets Augustus Waters.
Augustus is an 18-year-old cancer survivor who shares her dry wit and love of deep thinking. He could easily have rejoined his peers in a post-cancer existence, but instead he decides to spend his time accompanying his friend, Isaac, to a cancer support group. This is where he meets Hazel, who is forced by her parents and doctors to attend these meetings.
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 obtaining an invite to meet this reclusive writer, he and Hazel, after a few road blocks, embark on a journey to Amsterdam to take Van Houten up on his offer to visit and seek some answers about what happens to his 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 their relationship so seriously, knowing that Hazel has so little, though an indefinite amount of time on earth, you find yourself saying, “finally” when they get together while touring the Anne Frank house.
A quote from the book and movie.
With such a strong following, the filmmakers must have felt the fans breathing down their necks to get the story right, and they succeeded in pulling off a well-paced film that stays true to the story and only shortens certain 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.
The three acts are cut 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.
This brings me to the performances. Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff nailed it in their roles, 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 both the book and script. Some lines are taken right from the book, and they have to pull this off after countless readers have already heard these lines a certain way in their head.
The adults do a great job as well, though the parents tend to come off a little one dimensional, but this is how they come across in the book too. Besides, it is not their story. They’re there to physically and emotionally support their children while being directly affected by their circumstances. Like most parents dealing with their children's cancer, they feel strong enough to keep fighting for their kids but also realistic about their conditions which cause them to exhibit some very raw and painful emotions.
Willem Dafoe was not who I had in mind to play Peter Van Houten, and I was sad that one of my favorite Van Houten scenes in the book was not included, but this is not Van Houten’s story either, despite the fact that he has an interesting one to tell and is one of those characters that you both hate and feel bad for. Still, he plays the perfect sympathetic jerk that you love to hate, not so much a villain as a fallen hero.
The Fault in our Stars Trailer
If you want to see an unconventional, as far from a Lifetime TV movie as you can get cancer story, watch or read The Fault In Our Stars. You don't have to be a teenager to become invested in Hazel and Augustus' story, but if you are, this is a story with real stakes and real emotions that won't talk down to you. The world needs more stories like it, and with the success of both the book and movie, maybe we will get them.
|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
Megan Conway on April 04, 2015:
Oh I have the book! I got it for Christmas, but again, I am weak... XD
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on April 04, 2015:
ha ha The book will definitely finish you off. There's a lot of scenes that didn't make it into the movie and a different resolution with the Van Hauten storyline. If you're up for it, I highly recommend it.
Megan Conway on April 03, 2015:
I am in love with the film, but I'm very hesitant to read the book.... I swear, that movie destroyed me! When it was over I called my boyfriend crying because I didn't want him to die... Lol
Keyt on August 01, 2014:
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 10, 2014:
I read the book and will probably be going to see the movie this weekend. Glad to know that it was generally worthwhile.