So the highly-anticipated movie adaptation of the current king-of-the-YA-novel-hill, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, has finally arrived. Like all the other enthusiasts who added up to $50 million in sales on the first weekend alone (not bad for a movie that supposedly cost about $12 million to film), I rushed to the multiplex to see how Hollywood had handled this beloved book.
I'm happy to say that I think Hollywood did PRETTY DARN WELL in translating the book onto the movie screen.
In case you haven't read the book, it is the story of two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. The story is told by Hazel, who is very clear-eyed about the fact that her death from cancer is a matter of when, not if, but is more concerned about the impact of her death on the ones she will leave behind than complaining about her fate. Then she meets Augustus, whose cancer is in remission, and who is determined to live his life with gusto and to leave his mark on the world.
I know it sounds depressing...but really, it isn't. The story is really a reminder of grasping life and living boldly and intentionally, since, once we stop pretending, none of us knows when our time will be up, and for almost all of us, that time will come before we want it to. And it is about surrendering ourselves to our loves, which is when we feel most alive and most complete.
So, really, it is a movie about living a heroic life. The fact that many of the characters happen to have cancer is just a secondary theme.
The movie succeeds so well for two reasons:
1. The movie stays VERY true to the book.
No movie can contain all the multitudes of a good book, so there have been some aspects that had to be minimized and parts that were cut out completely. Most of the changes are minor and were not objectionable to me. The one thing that I really didn't like was that they changed the final words spoken. In the book, those words were VERY CAREFULLY chosen to end the book on a very specific but universal note. The words they substitute in the movie are wimpy and cutesy and specific. I think it was a BIG MISTAKE on the part of the filmmakers. BUT, I'm not going to say any more because it would be a spoiler if you haven't read the book. If you've read the book and want to know what I'm talking about, just email me and I'll explain further.
2. The casting was fabulous.
Although I was not familiar with most of the young cast, I think they did a great job bringing the characters to life. Shailene Woodley is, of course, a big Hollywood "it" girl this year, and she does make a marvelous Hazel. I loved Laura Dern's jittery but loving mother who tries to walk the line between positivity and denial. And Willem Dafoe was a great choice for the mysterious and eccentric writer, Peter Van Houten.
But in my mind, the real standout was Ansel Elgort as Gus. Gus is a tricky character to play. He must be audacious without becoming obnoxious, vulnerable without being sentimental, or even worse, maudlin. But Elgort has such an expressive face, particularly for a young man, and can display nuances of the character without saying a word. I just can't say enough about his marvelous performance.
And it is funny, but until I heard the words being delivered in the film, I never realized how much Gus sounds like a cooler, wiser version of John Green's high-school self. It was kind of like those Woody Allen movies where he has other people portraying his character and delivering all his dialogue, but it still sounds exactly like Woody Allen, not matter who the mouthpiece is. Augustus Waters sounds so much like John Green, but I never noticed it when I was reading the movie. But sounding like John Green is not a bad thing at all in my book!
So while I still recommend reading the book if you haven't yet, I can wholeheartedly also recommend the movie--with one proviso. Parents, take the PG13 rating seriously. It doesn't really have bad language, it doesn't really have violence (unless you consider egging a car as violent), and it has minimal sexual content. But I think you need to be at least 13 in order to appreciate what this story is saying. It does deal with young people dying, and it has a lot of emotional intensity. I don't think most 12 and unders would be traumatized by it, but I also don't think most have the maturity to grasp the beauty, honesty, and wisdom of this story. Don't ruin this wonderful piece of art for them by exposing them to it too young. It will still be around in a year or so when they
Carol is the founder and Headmaster of Heroic U. Here she shares some of her thoughts about education, literature, the hero's journey, and life in general