Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars


Image via The Examiner

Being defined as “Young Adult” is both a blessing and a curse—A blessing because any Young Adult titles are crowd surfed to the New York Times Best Sellers List and then to the top spot at the box office. It is a curse because Young Adult properties are also met with much derision, the most juvenile of which can be like that sound you can only hear if you’re over 40, except for fifteen year old girls.

That is why it is a shame that The Fault in Our Stars, the new film based on the hugely successful novel by John Green, has only been labeled as Young Adult. While it is a teen romance, it is a teen romance for people of all ages. Especially your grandparents, who probably keep calling this The Faults in His Stars or Starry Night.

I came to The Fault in Our Stars as a late fan: I read the book for the first time ever last week, yet I knocked it out in just a few short days because it was just that difficult to put down. Every word John Green writes oozes with all of the fast-paced wit that will easily carry you from one page to the next. It gave somebody who is a pretty terrible reader (me…did you figure that out yet?) a reason to want to keep reading. I decided to read this book out of both fascination and preparation and found myself enveloped in this world for a whole week through several different forms of media.

For those of you who are not familiar with the source material, the film maintains the book’s basic plot. The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a teenaged cancer survivor who lives life to the fullest by laying on her couch and watching America’s Next Top Model. Her parents want her to socialize with others, so they send her to a cancer support group. It is here that she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who has the name of a rejected Jane Austen character, and the ability to sweep her off of her feet and into the real world. Woodley and Elgort are just two small parts in a fantstic cast that constantly fires on all cylinders. Woodley plays Hazel as mopey but never too cynical. Meanwhile, Elgort plays Augustus as somebody who is both sensitive and too cool for school. All Augustus needs is an unlit cigarette dangling out of his mouth in order to look way cooler than you ever did in high school.

The book of Fault has a loose narrative feel to it, as it often feels like it is drifting from place-to-place. The film lends a tighter screenplay structure. Often, that is actually okay, as it forces the writers to trim a lot of the fat. Hazel’s narration is long and often borders on stream of consciousness. Bravo to director Josh Boone, who managed to translate as much of that as humanly possible into a visual form. From Amsterdam to a park in Indianapolis, The Fault in Our Stars sure is nice to look at.

Unfortunately, in the process from stage to screen, some of the best parts of the novel get lost. Hazel doesn’t necessarily seem as wise as she once did without her thoughts on An Imperial Affliction. Plus, the loss of some poignant scenes from the book give some of the background players less of a chance to shine. Luckily, this film has such a great ensemble, with everyone from Mike Birbiglia to Laura Dern acting at the top of their game. Birbiglia brings a much needed comic relief to his support group leader, while Dern brings a degree of honesty and humility to her performance as Hazel’s mother.

You can call this a teen movie all you want, because it is. However, The Fault in Our Stars happens to be the good kind of teen movie, as it is the kind that can relate to people of all ages. While it does lose some of my favorite parts of the book, it most importantly keeps the tone intact. Like the book, the movie of The Fault in Our Stars is an earnest and funny look at a subject that people often can’t muster up the words to talk about. First timers to the story will feel the same way that everybody did when they first read the book. Meanwhile, everyone who read the book will feel like they are experiencing this story for the first time. Sure, you might have imagined Augustus’ hair being a little longer, or Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) being a little fatter, but sometimes in order to enjoy a good adaptation, you have to kill the darlings that your imagination has created.

Brain Farts From The Edge (SPOILERS)

  • I would love to do a separate post just on how an audience can bend your perception of a film. For instance, this audience was filled with teenagers who all broke down in unison exactly when they were supposed to. They were a studio’s ideal test audience.
  • Props to Willem Dafoe for playing such a nasty character in a story about teenagers coping with cancer. I know that he’s a pretty terrible person, but I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit bad when Hazel dumped him on the side of the road after Gus’ funeral.
  • In my Chef review, I talked about the way that new movies use new media. Fault does it in the least irritating way imaginable. Sure, a simple zoom in at a text or email would have been fine. However, the text graphics actually serve the film well, and they added a nice touch of whimsy as well. (Note to self: never say “nice touch of whimsy” ever again)
  • I suddenly want to go to Amsterdam, and not for the reasons that everybody normally goes there. Hey, it looks like a nice city.
  • Mike Birbiglia wrote the song that he performs at the beginning of the film. The song reminds me of one of his classic bits.