It took six novels for an adaptation to be made of one of John Green’s work – surprising, considering his popularity with readers of young adult fiction. As a librarian-in-training and an avid reader/viewer of book reviews, I’ve found it difficult to take two steps into the internet without being bombarded by praise for this book and its author.
I’m not someone who buys into the hype over Green’s work. I do like John Green. He makes great videos for mental_floss, one of my favorite magazines. I admire his enthusiasm for connecting with his audience, and appreciate the fact that he’s helped a lot of young people enjoy reading.
But I often feel lukewarm about his novels. I’ve read them all, with the exception of An Abundance of Katherines. I consistently (either in my mind or on Goodreads, haha) rate them 3/5 stars because while I tend to finish them quickly, devouring them in only a day or two, I always have trouble connecting with his characters and find his dialogue to be a bit over-the-top.
The Fault in Our Stars followed this “tradition” I’ve built as a reader of Green’s novels: I read it in a day, but I’d give it about a 3/5. Possibly a bit higher. If I had to rank his books, it would rank second after Looking for Alaska, which I actually rated 4/5 on Goodreads. I wasn’t quite as wowed by Fault as most people are and wouldn’t consider it a favorite, but I did appreciate it.
The book, published in 2012, follows Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenage girl who is forced to attend a cancer support group by her mother. Her condition is stable, but she has to use a portable oxygen tank. At the support group she meets Augustus Waters, who had a leg amputated due to osteosarcoma, and Isaac, who has suffered tumors in his eyes and will soon be completely blind.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but along with exploration of the relationships between these young cancer patients, there is also a subplot dealing with Hazel’s obsession with a novel called An Imperial Affliction, the only book that she feels matches her own experience of living with cancer.
I’ve seen John Green referred to as “the Nicholas Sparks of YA” and while I wouldn’t go quite that far, the two men do share a sense of contrived-ness (Is that even a word?) in their writing. To be fair, Sparks writes with a much heavier dose of contrivedness.
Sparks’ novels make for films that are incredibly cheesy, but usually in an at least somewhat entertaining way. I was curious how things would play out on screen for one of Green’s books. Would the film be Sparks-y or would it be truly moving?
The trailers and teasers didn’t bode well. I found them awkward, and they lowered my expectations for the film.
Luckily, those expectations were exceeded. As it turns out, the “weepy romance” marketing for The Fault In Our Stars doesn’t do the film justice at all, and in the battle of Book vs. Film, the film wins for me on this one by a narrow margin.
I must admit, this film made me shed a couple of tears, which I was not expecting.
I didn’t cry while reading the book, and I’m not the type to cry over books or films. I have a heart made of stone and can count on less than one hand the films that have made me cry. So at the very least, the film is effective in its ability to emotionally involve the viewer in its story.
I credit this largely to the performances. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort each did a great job with their characters, Shailene being particularly effective in portraying her character’s emotions. As bad as I feel for saying it, I find Ansel Elgort’s “cry face” to be a bit comical (both here and in Divergent). Woodley, however, has a gift for delivering powerful-yet-subtle emotion.
Both young talents also do a great job of making the dialogue seem more natural than it did on paper. They bring Hazel and Gus to life in an authentic way.
There are still a couple of over-the-top scenes, but for the most part I found Hazel and Gus to be much more realistic as teenagers on screen than they were in the book. They’re still intelligent and slightly pretentious young folks, but not so intelligent and pretentious that they aren’t believable as real people (or are only believable as Master’s-holding adults trapped in teen bodies).
I was also impressed by Laura Dern and Sam Trammel as Hazel’s parents, and especially by Willem Dafoe as An Imperial Affliction author Peter Van Houten. The supporting cast is very strong.
While there were a couple of left-out scenes/characters from the book that I would have liked to see included in the film, and one scene which I would have liked to see taken out (You can probably already guess which: the Anne Frank house), I thought the script was adapted very faithfully.
It actually made me appreciate the story told by the book more, because seeing it play out on screen emphasized for me small but important aspects of life with terminal illness — the “family members only” restrictions at the hospital, issues of abandonment, the ineffectiveness of the support group.
The cast and crew did a wonderful job of bringing The Fault in Our Stars to the screen and digging their hooks into the viewer. I’m not sure I’ll ever re-watch this one since I don’t like to cry, but it’s a film worth watching that has a story worth telling, and it isn’t nearly as schmaltzy as I expected it to be.