Sunday, June 8, 2014

In Which I Review The Fault in our Stars (Movie)

Some infinities are bigger than others

Over a year ago, when this blog was brand new, I did a series of books reviews. One of the fist books I talked about was John Green's "The Fault in our Stars." I gave it an A- and a rave review. I admit I am biased when it comes to John Green products. I've been a big fan of his for a long time, both as an author and as a vlogger. When I heard that Hollywood was adapting his New York Times best selling novel, I was both thrilled and incredibly apprehensive. How could they possibly hope to match the beautiful story John Green wrote? They couldn't manage to cast people who would do Hazel and Gus justice, right? Most of my fears were assuaged when I saw the trailer for the film--if the 1 minute long trailer could make me cry, then it had to be on the right track. You should know going in that this is going to be a rave. Honestly, this might be one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I've seen in years. But, fair warning, if you go to see the film, take some tissues, you'll need them. 

Hashing the Plot

Let's do a quick overview of the plot before I get into what I liked and didn't like. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16 years old and dying. She was diagnosed very young with cancer, stage 4. She wasn't expected to survive long but went through all the treatment options we assoiciate with cancer: chemo, radiation, more chemo, and finally a "miracle" drug that managed to prevent the cancer from spreading any further. Despite the miracle, Hazel is still dying, just more slowly now. Her lungs "suck at being lungs" and she needs a constant stream of oxygen supplied by a tank. When the film picks up, Hazel is just living her life day-to-day as one might expect: she watches TV, she goes to the doctor, she hangs out with her parents. But her mother and father are worried that she's depressed, a side of effect of the cancer. Hazel's voice over tells us that it's a side effect of dying, but almost everything is. Her doctor and her mother encourage her to go to a support group. The group serves as a cliche piece of any "cancer story" you read about--a group of young people who must strive to find the beauty in life despite all the odds. They sit in the literal heart of Jesus Christ and talk about how they are doing today. Hazel hates every second of it. Unlike the plucky young heroine of other cancer novels, who's illness causes them to struggle admirably, Hazel has accepted that she is going to die and that oblivion is inevitable. Then Augustus Waters bumps into her.

Augustus Waters is a boy who lives for the symbolic and the metaphorical. Take the cigarette, put it between your teeth but never light up, thus taking away the power it has to kill you. Augustus Waters, trying to take back control of his life, one non-puff at a time. Gus is both like and not-like Hazel. He had cancer but has been cancer-free for over a year; he lost half a leg because of the disease but for the most part he sees his life "on a roller coaster that only goes up." His only fear? Oblivion, which is cute and pretentious, but so is Gus. This is a boy who only does something if it's symbolic and metaphorical, after all. Hazel finds this fear of the oblivion silly and tells him so at their first meeting while sitting in the Literal Heart of Jesus: there will come a day when all of humanity is wiped out and everyone and everything will be forgotten. But if this bothers you, just ignore it. That's what everyone else does. Gus is drawn to Hazel instantly but Hazel is more reticent. She wants to just be friends because Hazel sees herself as a grenade, and one day she's going to explode and harm everyone around her. It's her responsibility to lessen the casualties. But as Gus smiles and says, "you keeping your distance from me in no way lessens my feelings for you." And so, a friendship is formed. One of the ways they bond is over the novel "An Imperial Infliction" by one Peter van Houten. Hazel swears by this book; it's her totem that she carries around because it accurately describes what it's like to die but the author is someone still alive, something Hazel responds to as she lives her in-between life. The book ends mid-sentence because that's how life goes, but that doesn't stop Hazel from wishing she knew what happened to the character's friends and family. Sadly, Mr. Houten refuses to speak to his fans and lives a life of solitude in Amsterdam.

The world is not a wish granting factory, but sometimes you do get what you desire. Augustus arranges it so that he, Hazel, and Hazel's mother can visit Amsterdam to speak with Peter van Houten in his home, and hopefully get answers to what happens to family members after someone dies of cancer. Gus does the big bold romantic gestures a lot and you fall in love with him because of it--slowly, and then all at once. Amsterdam is both a success and a failure. On the one hand, Hazel and Gus grow closer and Hazel decides that despite life being a shout into the void, this is the only life she gets and she wants to spend it with Gus. On the other hand, it turns out that Peter van Houten, the man with the answers, is a drunk hack who refuses to speak to the pair or give them any sort of answers. He is, as Hazel so rightly put it, a douchepants.

I am going to stop the plot hashing here because I do not want to spoil the movie. Rather, go see it yourself or read the book or do both! To go any further means giving away some things that are very spoilery and this is a movie/book you should savor without knowing what happens next.

What I Did Not Like 

I have almost nothing to put here. Really. I have maybe 3 very tiny nitpicky things but that's it.

--There was one conversation between Hazel and her dad about the universe that I thought should have been left in, but it's not a reason to hate on the film as a whole.

--If you haven't read the novel, it might be hard to understand what "An Imperial Affliction" is and why Hazel and Gus love it. In the book "The Fault in Our Stars" Hazel uses it a lot as a benchmark of her life. She related to the lead, Anna, quite a bit (something that is important to van Houten as well).  For example, the line "the risen sun too bright in her loosing eyes" is a phrase that Hazel and Gus discuss frequently, but the movie doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on the fictional novel within a fictional novel. I think it works well for the movie if you haven't read the book, but as a book reader, you do notice it.

--This critque is to Hollywood in general: do yourself a favor and find a scholar who can speak Greek and Latin in order to teach your actors how to say things in that language. It is not pronounced "harm-may-sha" it's "harm-ma-tea-ah." It only bothers me as someone who reads Greek and Latin.

What I Liked

--Everything. My sad paltry useless words cannot accurately convey how beautiful this movie was. The movie was an almost word-for-word adaptation of the novel, which is what I was hoping for. Why change something when it works so well? There is a lot of pain in this film, make no mistake. I lost count of the number of times I cried. But if there is one lesson (there are several) in this book/film: that's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.

--Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot. Casting for TFIOS needed to be impeccable and it was. When Ansel was cast as Gus Waters, I was very apprehensive. He wasn't quite what I pictured from the book, but he sold it in this film. Clad in leather, with a beautiful smile and kind eyes, but moving through life from metaphor to metaphor, he did it perfectly. Shailene has really proven herself in the past few years of being able to do anything. Her history with the book is well known; she wrote a letter to John Green expressing her love for the novel long before the movie was cast. She brought Hazel to life

--The smaller story line of Isaac was given just enough space to make Isaac a fleshed out character but not to detract from Gus and Hazel. He was also some much needed comic relief without being simply comedic. In particular, I loved the basement scene where Isaac is raging against the world while Hazel and Gus try to have a serious conversation.

--The soundtrack is also really good and I enjoyed seeing the pair in Amsterdam for real.

Overall rating: A

Just go see it. You have no reason not to. This isn't just another YA adaptation. This isn't another life affiriming sick movie. This is something more.
So go see it.



  1. Did you notice that they didn't mention Gus's ex? I had almost forgotten about her because I read the book so long ago. Someone who was reviewing the movie said something about it taking away from us truly understanding Gus. I need to read it again now to contextualize this thought. I just remember she had brain cancer and lost her mind. Any comment on that? You've clearly read the book more times than I have! Just curious.

    1. It's a good question. In the book, yes the ex does add a bit more flavor to Gus's character--and indirectly to Hazel's-- and the tragic nature of cancer itself, but I don't think the movie suffered any nor do I think Gus's character was underdeveloped because of her absence. Honestly, even though I've read the book many times, I barely remember her and wasn't bothered by it in the movie. Thanks for reading!