Pain demands to be felt: Initial thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars movie
There's something beautiful and lovely about sitting in a huge room and crying with a large group of people. All around me I could hear sniffling and whimpering and people's breaths hitching. My own shoulders shook and my eyes poured forth fresh streams of tears as scenes from my #4 Favorite Book played out before me on the screen.
I got tickets to tonight's special event, The Night Before Our Stars, which was the first official showing of TFIOS simultaneously all across the country (so for me, it was at 5:30pm), followed by a live Q&A with the cast, director, producer, and John Green. We also got a cool limited edition poster and charm bracelet :)
The movie concluded three and a half hours ago (as I begin to type this), and my eyes are still swollen from all the crying. (It could also be that I've spent the last few days grading hundreds of writing assignments.) But of course, I had to post something because a movie this wonderful based on a book I hold so dear? Needs to be discussed. I was (I am) very keen on sharing the TFIOS experience with everyone I know just... because. Because I don't want to experience this kind of emotion alone.
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
This is something Hazel says in the book. It's how I feel about TFIOS itself, and I think I feel the same way about the movie. (Spoiler alert: this line isn't actually in the movie, btw.) For my friends who are waiting to hear my opinion about the adaptation, let me put your mind at ease right now: it was spectacular. I heartily give it a stamp of approval, but to be honest, I never really doubted that I would, considering how John Green has been very vocal about giving the movie his stamp of approval, and if it's good enough for John Green, it's good enough for me.
*** Warning: spoilers for the book and the movie below ***
It's MORE than good enough for me - I'd rank this up there with Catching Fire in terms of faithful YAF-to-screen adaptations. The screenwriters did an amazing job. TFIOS itself was a tricky book to write (based on John Green's comments about writing it), as it covers topics like cancer, first love, family, etc., but tries really hard to avoid being maudlin and othering individuals with terminal illness, especially teenagers with terminal illness. Thus, it was really important to John Green that a screen adaptation of TFIOS would try to achieve and avoid what the book achieves and avoids. And I think it did a GREAT job of this - in general, the most beloved lines were kept (though, I did lament the loss of some of my favorites), and the things that were changed flowed well.
For example, one major, HUGE change is the ending - in the book, Van Houten does show up to talk to Hazel, and in the end, Lidewij (his assistant) scans Gus' final letter to VH about Hazel and emails it to her. In the movie, Van Houten simply just gives it to her after Gus' funeral, saying "You need to read this." John Green has gone on the record saying that he wishes he had thought to write it this way instead of the way it's done in the book, and I think I agree - this is much simpler and in the end, I think we didn't need the little run-around of Hazel searching for Gus' journal entries.
There are quite a few examples of other things being trimmed out (like Gus' half sisters), because a movie can only be so long, so here are some things I personally missed and would've loved to see on-screen:
- The Anne Frank House mini discussion - this is mainly because my very first introduction to TFIOS was a dramatic reading of this scene, where Hazel and Gus are talking in the Anne Frank House before they kiss, and afterwards, Hazel quotes poetry before she suggests going to his room. I know it wasn't super important (they kept the kiss, but not the conversations), but I just would've liked to see it because it's what got me hooked.
Although, something that WAS emphasized in the Anne Frank House sequence in the movie that I had not focused on much/realized while I was reading was just how difficult it was for Hazel to climb those stairs. She says in the book that she had to pause a lot, but otherwise, her narration doesn't focus on it too much. In the movie, we see each torturous flight of stairs, each labored breath, set to soundclips of Anne Frank's words. This one struck me particularly, as the shot focused on Hazel's quiet exhaustion and Augustus in the background, full of concern for the girl he loves:
"Who claims that the older ones have a more difficult time here certainly doesn't realize to what extent our problems weigh down on us, problems for which we are probably much too young but which thrust themselves upon us continually..."
- Hazel's dad crying at everything - I say this not disparagingly. I loved how emotional her father is in the book, and we only got a fraction of that in the movie.
- My good friend Jen pointed out that the decline of Augustus' health is much more drawn out (and subsequently torturous) in the book, and I agree with that, but again, a movie can only be so long.
- My favorite, FAVORITE line, "You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are" was not in the movie because they did not do the whole "lonely, vaguely pedophilic swing seeks the butts of children" part, so I guess I understand that.
- Isaac and Hazel hanging out and playing videogames, post-Augustus, but again, there's only so much time allowed in a movie.
What I loved: the cast's performances. There's no doubt about it, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are the stars, and their performances are so deserving of praise and accolades. But let's not forget:
- Nat Wolff who is loveable and sympathetic as Isaac, and who holds his own really well against the two leads. He's funny, but he's not mere comic relief.
- Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel's parents. Parents often get overlooked in teen movies, as far as character development goes. As a parent myself, I appreciated their roles in the narrative, and I thought the parts were played very well.
- Willem Dafoe as Van Houten! I was excited for his part ever since it was first announced, and I haven't seen him as part of any of the press things, but oh man, he nailed this role, just as I thought he would. Um, and watching him bob his head to Swedish hip hop is hilarious.
I even really appreciated Mike Birbiglia as Patrick - he's in the movie for, like, two minutes, and he's not a particularly interesting character in the book (mainly because Hazel, our narrator, finds him completely uninteresting), but I thought he really hit his marks in the movie.
Let's do talk about Shailene and Ansel though: they are magic together. I know people were all weirded out by the fact that they're brother and sister in Divergent, but 1) that's dumb, they're professional actors, and 2) they're both amazing actors individually, and when they're together, their chemistry is just wonderful.
I already knew Shailene Woodley is a good actress, since I've seen her in other things. Actually, I really loved her in The Spectacular Now (which was adapted from the book by the same guys behind TFIOS), and seeing her in that role - makeup-less and unassuming in appearance, but with a quiet strength - really helped me picture her as Hazel. Her oblivion response was perfectly delivered, full of the perfect amount eyeroll without sounding pretentious and preachy.
When Ansel Elgort was first announced for Gus, I wasn't sure about him. I looked him up, and a lot of his photos were very model-y, and I just wasn't sure. And then I saw a video of him speaking (just a message to his fans), and he grinned, and then I just KNEW.
Even so, his performance surprised me. He totally nailed it - Augustus is charming and handsome, but definitely "self-aggrandizing" (as Isaac describes in the book) and full of grand romantic gestures that don't always come across the way they should, and he is smart and says some really pretentious things, but overall he is just a boy who is in love with a girl, and Ansel just really gets it right. He doesn't make Gus seem too perfect but he also doesn't make him seem insincere. The scene in the airplane, when they're taking off for Amsterdam, is just so perfect with his childlike excitement. Ansel Elgort on his own is charming and adorable, but Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters? I can't even BEGIN to even...
He also has the Gus grin, and as he demonstrates many times throughout the film, Gus doesn't just exist in the big grand speeches and metaphors and famous lines from the book - Gus also exists in the little winks he gives Hazel, or the wiggling of his eyebrows, or the moments he's caught gazing at her with SUCH adoration. When Ansel is Healthy Augustus, the entire room falls in love with him. And when he is Sick Augustus, we feel his pain and his anguish. The gas station scene was incredibly painful and difficult to watch, and yet... I'm sad that it wasn't as long as it was in the book.
And I buy their relationship. I believe it. Shailene's Hazel and Ansel's Augustus are perfect together, even though it's only for a short while. The very first staring scene was adorable. The pre-funeral eulogy scene was devastating - watching it, I felt like I was intruding on their private moment.
Other random things I loved about the movie:
- There are text messages that are really important to the story, and I like how they handled that on screen.
- The use of teen girl voiceover narration wasn't too bad. I'd still always rather not have it, but I don't mind Shailene's voice, and it helps that the source material is good. (I'm looking at you, Twilight Saga.)
- I now want to visit Amsterdam.
- Gus' V for Vendetta poster and Hazel's Hectic Glow poster - the film and the band are discussed in the book, but I'm glad they weren't totally left out of the movie.
I loved this movie. Loved loved it. Just like when I first read the book, it's been haunting my thoughts, and all I can think about is seeing it again. It does such a good job of either matching or improving upon the mental images I've created in my head, and it brings John Green's words to life so beautifully that I can understand perfectly why he cried constantly while on set, overwhelmed by the fact that the things in his imagination were suddenly existing right in front of his eyes. I cried too - I cried a lot. I brought a tissue box with me and probably hit double digits in tissue use. I cried in anticipation of what I knew I would see, I cried at what I actually did see, and I cried even at the scenes and lines that I didn't get to see (but knew so well that the words ran through my head anyway).
And this was an experience I shared with the people around me. We all sat there sobbing together, and despite the teen-girl squealing that sporadically took me out of the experience at earlier parts of the movie, when it came to the crying, there was no giggling or scoffing (that I could hear) - we were all in it together, feeling the same sadness and crying together, and it is a very powerful experience to share your catharsis and have a very human moment with other human beings, bonding over our mutual love for this amazing work that is The Fault in Our Stars.
(Apologies for any typos... still feeling cloudy and muddled...)