Friday, 4 July 2014

The Fault in Our Stars Double Bill

The Fault in Our Stars cover
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green

   I have a confession to make, one that might be a little controversial. Both times that I’ve read this book, I’ve started off really hating Augustus Waters. During his initial introduction, where he describes his fear of “oblivion” and the metaphorical resonance of his non-smoking, holding an unlit cigarette in his mouth “putting the killing thing between his lips but not giving it the power to do the killing”. I hated him.
   I found him incredibly smug and pretentious, the kind of teaspoon deep, handsome boy intended to make girls swoon and nothing more.
   Not long into the book though, when his true personality begins to become a bit more apparent, I ended up really liking him. He’s a pretentious prick at times but he’s also caring, funny, smart and a really enjoyable character.

   That’s what makes John Green’s writing so great to read. Each of his characters are very realistic. They’re never just good or bad, likeable or intolerable. Like real people, they each have their good qualities and bad. There are moments where you love them and moments where you want to slap them.
   Hazel, the novel’s protagonist is the same. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, she’s not the typical “not going down without a fight” cancer patient we’re used to seeing in books and films. She’s a scared teenager, who pretty much shuts herself off completely from the rest of the world in an attempt to minimise the damage that her inevitable death will cause.
   She too, is funny, smart and loving but on multiple occasions throughout the novel, let’s her frustrations get the better of her, lashing out at either her parents or Augustus for no real reason, just as you might expect a real person in her position to do.

John Green

   While I can’t claim to have any real world experience of the subject matter, the treatment of cancer in the novel feels very true to life too. The sufferers live in constant fear and acknowledgement of death and it’s clear that these feelings still hang over those who have gotten the all clear. It’s permanently in the back of each characters mind, not so much a battle to be fought as an inevitability to be faced.
   It’s a heartbreaking but refreshing thing to see. We’re so used to seeing characters in fiction react to cancer with affirmative action, as if the disease can be overcome by sheer willpower. The reality of the situation is not that, cancer in the real world is as it’s presented here, outside of anyone’s control.

   The book is also offers a refreshing take on romance, so often open to cliché in fiction. Here the romance proceeds at a fairly realistic pace. Hazel and Gus don’t meet and instantly fall in love, instead they become friends and their romance evolves pretty naturally from there. In fact, for a long time, Hazel refuses to get in a relationship at all, again wanting to minimalise the casualties of her death.
   Even when the relationship finally does become official it’s never unbelievably romantic. In particular, when they finally consummate their relationship it’s done without much eroticism, it’s as awkward as you’d expect a first sexual encounter between an oxygen dependent cancer patient and one legged virgin to be.

   The Fault in our Stars is John Green’s best work to date. It’s a refreshingly realistic take on life with cancer, romance and teenage life in general. The characters and plot suck you in and refuse to let go. It’s a book that I’m certain I’ll return to again and again in the future and if you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.

The Fault in Our Stars movie poster
The Fault in Our Stars
Dir: Josh Boone

   The Fault in Our Stars was never going to be an easy film to adapt for the screen. A book which prides itself on a realistic, cliché and glossless telling of life with cancer put into the Hollywood machine, a machine custom built to deliver unrealistic, cliché and gloss ridden stories.
   It’s a wonder therefore, that the movie survives this process and fares very well, even when held up alongside the book.

   It hasn’t escaped Hollwoodisation completely, many of the slower scenes of the book have escaped the final cut and make the romance between Gus and Hazel feel a lot faster, much more like love at first sight, versus the slow burn it receives in the novel.
   There’s also a fair bit of glamorisation, both Gus and Hazel’s home lives feel a little too idyllic. They live in large, well kept houses and there’s never really a feeling that these families are living with the expense of a terminally ill child.
   Each of the characters too, feel a little less realistic than their novel counterparts, as if their faults and edges have been sanded off, though only very slightly.

   I want to get these criticisms out of the way because I feel they’re pretty inconsequential over all. The film is incredibly faithful to the original novel and, aside from the odd tweak and slight upping of the cheesiness manages to get across everything John Green had to say in an entertaining and heartfelt way.  
   In fact, the only scenes I had any real problem with were actually moments taken straight from the book. Pieces of dialogue lifted direct from the page that, while fine in their original context, feel a little odd when you hear them coming from a real person’s mouth. There’s also the kiss in Anne Frank’s attic that, while touching in the book, feels a little inappropriate and uncomfortable here.
   Again however, these are minor niggles and scenes like this are few and far between.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are the perfect choices for their roles, managing to capture both the humour and gravitas of their characters perfectly.

   The cast are fantastic, both Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are the perfect choices for their roles, managing to capture both the humour and gravitas of their characters perfectly. They have great chemistry on screen and are completely believable as a couple.
   Sam Trammell and Laura Dern are great as Hazel’s parents, though Dern suffers perhaps the worst translation from the book the movie has to offer as Hazel’s mum becomes very watered down, rarely given much to do on screen other than smile supportingly and tell Hazel how proud of her she is.
    Willem Dafoe also gives an impressive supporting performance as the alcoholic author Van Houten and while he gives a different take on the character than that I had in my head while reading the book, he chews scenery with glee and steals every scene he’s in.

   The tone of the story survives the transition brilliantly. It’s a fine line to walk, and while the film never truly lives up to the promise of telling the story without sugar-coating, what little sugar it does offer, with the exception of one or two scenes, never feels overwhelming. The film still does away with many traditional “cancer movie” tropes and presents a realistic depiction of what life is actually like to suffers of the disease. These harsher elements of the story are presented well too and never come across as preachy or over bearing. It’s a very impressive accomplishment.

   The Fault in Our Stars was an adaptation that many, including myself, feared for when it was announced. There was so much that could go wrong. In the end though, the final product gets so much right. It’s a fantastic adaptation of a brilliant story that will delight, entertain and break the hearts of old and new fans alike.  

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