For anyone who wants an introduction to this film, please check out my review of the book.
With that out of the way, I want to dive straight into my review of the film. Can it really be two and a half years ago that I caved into the fandom pressure of the book? As with any beloved book, it was always going to be a challenge to see how the various elements – storylines, situations and characters translated from the page to the silver screen. With the case of “The Fault In Our Stars”, I have to say that not only did it match my expectations from the book… it exceeded them.
The script by Scott Neudstater and Michael H. Webber takes everything that was good in the book, which is just about everything, and manages to achieve a fine balancing act of pulling the emotions of the audience in various directions – often at the same time – without being mawkish or false in its sentiments. It also manages to retain John Green’s intelligent dialogue, humour and ballsiness plus it puts the character of Hazel Grace Lancaster front and centre by delivering her inner dialogue alongside what you see on the screen. Basically, this is not your typical saccharine teen romance film. If you want that, watch “Twilight”.
The direction by Josh Boone is clever. There are no real tricks to his style of direction. He takes what’s on the page and delivers it on to the screen in the same way as the book and screenplay are delivered – with brutal honesty, well as honest as you can be for a “12A” rated film, humour and intelligence. He manages to get the best out of all of the actors in the film and cover a lot of ground in the film’s two hour running time without the film feeling rushed or that you’re missing the main narrative of the story.
He also uses his locations well. On the one hand, you have American suburbia where people have to get on with the day-to-day lives, whilst on the other you get the beautiful scenery of the city of Amsterdam including its beautiful canals and canalside streets plus notable locations such as the Anne Frank House, which is a key location in both the book and the film, the Rijksmuseum and the Westerkerk.
The acting is nothing short of excellent. There isn’t a duff performance in this film and given that this is the summer season when a lot of films deliver action over performance and character, it is refreshing to see.
Firstly, Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster. When I heard that Ms Woodley was cast as Hazel Grace, I was excited. I had seen her in 2012 in “The Descendants” as George Clooney’s daughter and her performance was fantastic. As with that role, she manages to give an emotionally raw and real performance in the role of Hazel Grace. You see that right from the off that she is interested, if not attracted, to the character of Augustus, but due to events that occur in the film (as with the book) she wants to keep him at arms length to protect him. As the relationship changes from friendship to love, you see the character of Hazel let her armour slip away through Ms Woodley’s performance to become somebody who is both strong and emotionally vulnerable – understandable enough given Hazel Grace’s story arc.
I have only seen Ansel Elgort in last year’s remake of “Carrie” in a supporting role and therefore didn’t really know too much about him. However, I have to say that he’s a great fit for the role of Augustus Waters. On the one hand, he does deliver the teen interest angle, but to say that is all for Elgort’s performance is doing him a disservice. Yes, as with Woodley, you get the teen interest angle (especially as the two of them worked together in the film adaptation of “Divergent”), but you also see that he invests intelligence, chivalry, and a loveable goofiness/clutziness in the role of Augustus. As with the character of Hazel Grace, Elgort manages to make Augustus feel “real”, which only makes the last quarter of the film, as with the book, all the more shocking and a real kick in the guts even if you’ve read the book.
Willem Dafoe gives a well nuanced performance in the role of Peter Van Houten, the author who sets Hazel Grace and Augustus on a journey to Amsterdam. On the one hand, you have to really dislike this character and Dafoe manages to imbue Van Houten with a real sense of being a complete jerk who sees nothing beyond the end of his own nose. Whilst on the other hand, you need to see a sense of background as to why he is the way he acts. As such, you get a conflict in that you are meant to really dislike this character, but also feel a sense of wretched pity in the face of Hazel Grace’s understandable backlash at the end of the film.
Laura Dern and Sam Tramell provide fantastic support in the roles of Hazel Grace’s parents. One the one hand, you can see that they want to protect Hazel Grace and prepare her for the fact that she has a limited life left to her, but on the other they want her to be a normal teenager who needs to have love in her life, not just from her parents but from a romantic relationship.
Finally, Nat Wolff in the supporting role of Isaac is given the task of being the “comedy relief” that is required for a film which puts the viewer’s emotions through the wringer. Yes, the character faces the prospect of losing his sight – which occurs during the film – but Wolff’s performance doesn’t make you feel sorry for Isaac (along with the comic portrayal of Isaac’s libido). In fact, he delivers the ultimate gesture of defiance in the notorious “egging” scene as he avenges himself on his former girlfriend’s car. With the prospect of Wolff taking the lead in the next John Green adaptation for Fox 2000, “Paper Towns”, it will be interesting to see him make the move from “comedy relief” to leading man.
Ultimately, this could be seen as just another teen romance film. And I would have to say that that tag would sell both this film and the book on which it is based short. As with the ending, or non-ending, of Peter Van Houten’s fictional novel “An Imperial Affliction”, you can take whatever themes or feelings this film engenders that you wish – whether it be a romance, or a study of how mortal we are, or the individual’s desire to make their mark on the world, or a rallying cry and gesture of defiance to “seize the day”, no matter how fleeting the opportunity. This film will mean different things to different people and it does so by treating the audience base as a whole as adults. Granted, the primary audience will be the “Young Adult” market at which the book is allegedly targeted. However, as with the book, there are themes which strike a chord, whether you’re a teenager or somebody who is “middle aged”, like myself, plus it doesn’t talk down to or patronise teenagers and younger adults.
What it also has is the ability to stand up to repeat viewing and I will be purchasing it once it receives a Blu Ray release.
Rating: Get In The Queue (as if I have to say that to anyone who has read a John Green book)