It’s been over a month since ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ came out, and nearly that long since I saw it, which has given me some time to process how I felt about it. Which, apparently, is not great. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the book, and there are still aspects of the movie I enjoyed, but ultimately I feel like this was not a book meant to be translated to the screen.
Disclaimer: The following contains tons of spoilers for both the book and the movie. Obviously.
On the list I made of things about this movie that I really enjoyed, Shailene Woodley was number one. She absolutely embodied Hazel Grace Lancaster. I had been skeptical about the casting from the beginning – all I’d seen of her was ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’, possibly the worst television show to ever exist – but she not only surpassed my expectations, she stomped them into tiny pieces. Along that line, the casting of both Isaac and Peter Van Houten was perfect. I loved Isaac in the book, but Nat Wolff made me love him even more, a seemingly impossible feat (Side Note: His performance as Isaac made me even more excited to see him as Quentin in Paper Towns when that movie gets made!). On the other end of the spectrum, Willem Dafoe’s creepy and unsettling presence transformed the Van Houten character from an irritant to someone I wanted to crack across the skull with a flower vase.
The cinematography in Amsterdam was absolutely stunning. I’m no film studies major so I can’t articulate what it was about it that I enjoyed but it was certainly aesthetically pleasing.
One aspect of the novel that came across quite well was the theme that no matter how small a life you live, and no matter how many people remember you, you have an impact on the world. That message was extremely important to me in the novel so that fact that it was so prevalent in the movie was perfect.
The best part of the movie, hands down, was also the most heartbreaking. Gus’ funeral in the Literal Heart of Jesus. It was not only exactly how I pictured in my head, but it also captured the grief and anguish of all the people involved. Although the movie completely nailed the more heart-wrenching moments, it also did a good job of inserting moments of humour – Hazel & Gus’ sex scene or their egging of Monica’s car. Those were beautiful moments of just pure humanity. Despite the hardships in life (especially in their lives), there is always at least a modicum of humour and joy.
But along with all of the things I did like about the movie, there was even more that I didn’t. One specific scene that ended up making me profoundly uncomfortable was the first scene in the Literal Heart of Jesus after Gus and Hazel meet for the first time. Gus’ intense staring from across the circle did not come off as romantic, it was actually rather creepy, while also being insanely cheesy.
Although I thought that most of the casting for the characters was perfect, I wasn’t wholly convinced by Ansel Elgort. There were moments – specifically the scene where Isaac was smashing trophies – that he was absolutely, 100% Augustus Waters, but I found myself mostly put off by his portrayal. I’m fairly certain that this is due to a personal preference, and that most of the other viewers found him to be the perfect Gus. I’m even more certain that it’s because the dialogue. Lines that came off as deep or mature in the novel, were simply pretentious when spoken aloud. The cigarette metaphor made me physically cringe every time it appeared on screen. In the book, their pretension was a joke. They were supposed to be pretentious, and the people around them made fun of them for it. In the movie, it sounded ridiculous and like they were taking themselves much, much too seriously.
My biggest complaint though, is the way the side characters faded into the background. They became flat and disinteresting and basically unnecessary. One thing I’ve always loved about John Green’s writing is the way he creates and develops side characters that are full of depth. He never treats side characters as plot devices, they have their own lives and stories to tell. I fully understand that not everything in a novel can be included in a movie, but ultimately, that was my biggest issue with this movie.
I do not believe this is a book that should have been adapted into a movie. Not every book is meant to, and not every book can become a good movie. I think this is one of them. The nuances of the themes didn’t come through visually, the metaphor became grating and conspicuous, and yes, they were supposed to be pretentious, but although, in the novel, it was an inside joke that their pretension was annoying – it ended up seeming like the characters, and the movie, was taking itself too seriously.
I love John Green and I’m happy that the success of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ has led to the rights for ‘Paper Towns’ and ‘Looking for Alaska’ to be picked up, but I certainly hope that those novels translate better to the screen than TFiOS did.