You’re in a packed theater. The movie ends, the credits roll, and it’s impossible to hear the closing music over the sound of everyone in the theater sobbing. It is rare for so many to be moved so deeply, but as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ ended in the theater where I saw it last night, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
The story is about two kids with cancer who fall in love and experience death in a bittersweet tangle of events, but the story isn’t really about death. It's about being alive, and all the pains and joys that accompany life, but with characters who are facing much higher stakes than most of us.
The movie opens with a voiceover done by Shailene Woodley, the actress who plays the terminally ill, incredibly insightful 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster. The book is written in first person voice, so Woodley's narration keeps Hazel's witty and honest anecdotes alive.
Hazel's story is one not often told. She is a three-year survivor of an incredibly aggressive form of stage IV thyroid cancer, and is living on borrowed time. Her mom decides that Hazel is depressed, and sends her to a support group lead by a guy named Patrick. Patrick is portrayed hilariously by Mike Birbiglia, who brings an element of humor to the movie with his cringe-worthy speeches about his cancertastic past.
As in the book, Hazel meets her future love interest, Augustus Waters, at the support group. Augustus is played by the lovable Ansel Elgort, and the character is in remission from osteosarcoma. He's big on metaphors and symbolism, and Elgort strikes the perfect balance between pretentious, innocent, and extremely adorable. To be honest, I was unsure how well this was cast when they first announced that he was playing Gus, but I shouldn't have doubted. I couldn't find any faults in Elgort's performance of Augustus Waters.
The film was beautiful. There were lots of close-up shots that made me feel as if I was standing right there next to the actors. The soundtrack really tied everything together, even though some songs could barely be heard over the sound of crying in the theater (seriously!). The vibrant colors and panoramic views gave the movie a very rich feel. Extremely devoted fans of the book might be confused or disappointed by some of the changes or omissions. In the book, Augustus is 17, but in the movie, they changed his age to 18 for no apparent reason. Additionally, supporting characters like Caroline Mathers, Kaitlyn, and Augustus's sisters were completely left out. The scene at the swingset and the gas station are shortened from the book, and much of what happens at the airport isn't included. Originally, the book’s author John Green made a cameo in the airport, but his acting was pretty terrible and the movie was running a bit long, so it was cut. Much to my dismay, the blind guy video game scene isn't included at all.
Despite all this, it's still one of the most faithful book-to-movie adaptations I have ever seen.
Some scenes were actually more potent in the film. For example, the Anne Frank scene is much more powerful in the movie because of the relevant ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ quotes that play in the background as Hazel and Gus struggle up the steep staircases. I was very glad to see that Hazel's cannula and Gus's prosthetic leg were not romanticized. In fact, the inconveniences they create for the characters are more obvious in the film than in the book.
Hazel's parents are excellently portrayed by Laura Dern and Sam Trammell. They have more of a presence in the film than in the book, too, which makes Hazel's fear of hurting her parents feel more powerful.
I had very high expectations for TFIOS movie, and it more than lived up to them. I'm very grateful to the entire cast and crew for their ability to take such a sensitive book and turn it into an equally wonderful film. I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see love, life, and loss shown in their purest forms.
Make sure to bring lots of tissues, and if at all possible, read the book first.
Previously on Boing Boing: Naomi's response to 'The Fault in our Stars' trailer