At this point it should go without saying that this review is probably going to be a bit biased.
After all, The Fault in Our Stars is my favourite book (holding the #1 spot in my top three which also includes The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Great Gatsby.) It has been my favourite book since I first read it when it was release back in 2012. I’ve already written about how much it means to me and, thus, how nervous the movie adaptation made me.
So, I armed myself with a fist-full of tissues (spoiler alert: I needed ALL OF THEM) and bought my ticket for opening night. In a post-TFiOS movie world, I’m happy to say that my nervousness has been sufficiently pacified. The film, while not perfect, was a beautiful nod to its source material.
My full review is under the cut because it’s full of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
If I were to sum up my TFiOS movie-going experience it would be one of pure and unadulterated joy.
A bit of emotional devastation but mostly joy.
With the exception of some omissions made for the sake of movie-telling and time (most of which I agreed with, such as cutting Hazel’s friend Kaitlyn from the script) the film stayed amazingly true to its source material. Like, so true that it felt like I was seeing my own imaginings from my readings being projected on screen. It was actually a bit surreal but it was the reason I spent most of the movie with a derpy smile plastered on my face. My favourite book was suddenly, beautifully, so real.
Even the vast majority (and I do mean vast) of the dialogue was pulled from the book (I gave a squeak of delight when Hazel cried “WHAT IS THIS LIFE??” – The smart and witty dialogue is important parts of each character and the fact that it was preserved and translated to screen so carefully was a true testament to the integrity of the crew that put this film together). And when it comes to Hazel and Gus, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort did an seriosuly incredible job. Shailene is freakishly talented. I almost taken aback by how much like the Hazel of my imaginings she was. From her energy to her facial expressions; she was unquestionably perfect. But Ansel was the real surprise for me. Not that I ever necessarily doubted his talent but he made Augustus real. The thing about his character is that he’s so dynamic that I often found him difficult to imagine as a real person. Watching Ansel as Gus was like reading a translation - he made me understand that character better.
I appreciated the attention to little details. From Gus’ basement bedroom (while we don’t see him and Hazel watch V for Vendetta I liked the compromise of the poster above his bed) to Van Houten’s linen suit at the funeral, those little things that made the film feel that much more authentic. I also liked that they gave us access to Hazel’s inner monologue, something that I felt was pivotal to telling the story properly (and an element that I personally think is sorely lacking in the Hunger Games movies – knowing what drives the character is valuable and sometimes that much exposition is necessary to properly convey motivation).
Despite all of the #FEELS talk going around, the movie isn’t just one big cry-fest. In fact, the first two-thirds are actually quite funny with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. But there were also plenty of moments that were worthy of tears. I was surprised that some of the parts that made me cry in the book didn’t make me cry in the movie, and I wouldn’t even say it was because of how it was portrayed (The “lit up like a Christmas tree” line gets me every. Damn. Time. When I read the book. In the movie it broke my heart but that was as far as it went). But by the time we got to Augustus’ decline in heath I was an unruly mess. I think I really broke down during the gas station scene. Ugh. And the fake funeral was so beautifully done. And then there was the phone call… And the e-mail at the end? UGH.
There is, however, a part of me that wonders what it must have been like to watch the movie without having read the book. In most cases I felt that my crying was either due to the fact that I knew what was coming and already knew how much it hurt, or because I’m just so emotionally connected to the characters and the story (I didn’t cry the first time I read the book. I did afterwards, once I had the time to process everything, but not during. Each read since though has been made next to a handy box of tissues because I JUST CAN’T).
And this leads me to consider what I didn’t necessarily love about the film.
Here’s the thing: The Fault in Our Stars is not just a love story. Sure, Hazel and Augustus’ love is the central plot point but the story as a whole is one about life – about how we deal with the things we cannot change, how we make our lives count, and how we navigate the intricacies of being inextricably intertwined in the lives of others (alliteration!)
One of the things I really like about the book is that it doesn’t gloss over Gus’ decline in health, nor does it end right after his funeral. The reader is forced to deal with all of the heartbreak and ugliness along with the characters. We also get to watch the beginnings of life after Augustus Waters and, regardless of how much it hurts, we are made to see that life does, in fact, carry on. It’s different, as it should be, but the characters are able to grow from it. And this is important not only because that’s how it works in real life but also because (what I think we sometimes forget is that) Hazel is terminal. She’s never been anything but. In my reading we see Hazel panicking over the scar she knows she’s going to leave across the hearts of the people that love her when she dies. But in having to experience her own grief from losing Augustus and consequently seeing how life grows from that point both she and the reader can rest a bit more soundly knowing that she needn’t be so afraid.
Yes, it’s going to suck, but life will continue to find a way.
The film does make sure to touch on what I believe are all of the key points that are intended to illustrate this theme (open to interpretation of course but from my perspective: Mrs. Lancaster’s admission of studying to become a social worker, the gas station scene, Hazel and Gus’ conversation about his legacy, Hazel’s “fake” eulogy for Gus’ family, and the Gus’ final e-mail). But still, it’s just a touch. I, as a reader of the book, recognize the signs of the theme. But for people who will only see the film, are those equally important themes of life and legacy still evident or does it just come across as a really touching love story?
(This is a legit question: I’d love to hear from people who have only seen the movie).
Other things that were omitted (and I understand why) but I kind of wish hadn’t been:
- The line that gives the story its title.
- Gus and Hazel writing the ad to get rid of the swing set.
- Mr. Lancaster’s discussion about the universe wanting to be noticed.
Without question, I love this movie. Despite my concerns that some of the other important themes may have gotten a bit muddied along the way, I don’t for a moment think that the story was dumbed-down. It was smart, it was thought-provoking and it was authentic. As protective as I and other Nerdfighters are about the book, I’m glad to see the story being shared so beautifully across another medium and being genuinely enjoyed with so many others. John Green, director Josh Boone, and company should feel proud – the film most definitely did this wonderful story justice.
What about you? Did you see see TFiOS this past weekend? What did you think? Are you planning on seeing it? (If so, let me know – I’ll totally go again!)
Edit: I just read this review from the wonderful Lindy West of Jezebel fame and I just had to link to it because, 1) It’s funny, and 2) Her “it’s dangerous to love somebody” summary is what I was trying to get at but I think she did a better job of it so , yeah, go read that too.