Monday, 19 May 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars (FILM)

Source: US Weekly
Last week I was very fortunate to be invited to a preview screening of The Fault in Our Stars. Penguin Teen Australia extended an invitation and I grabbed at it with two grubby hands.  But what did I think?


If you're reading a YA blog, of which this is, and haven't heard of (or read) this novel then I have no words.  I won't be retelling the plot as 1) I shouldn't have to, and 2) I am too lazy.

The Story
Admission - I think TFioS is a good book and have often remarked that the first ten pages are as close to YA perfection as I can conceive. However, I don't think it is the masterpiece that it is often touted as, and I have always had concerns with the Gus character, the whole Amsterdam segue and the narrative arc.  Basically I found Gus to be insufferable and would have prefered for John Green to concentrate on a girl, her view on life and death, and her parents.  The romance was never the part that grabbed me, Hazel's voice was.

My theory on this film is that what you like or dislike about the book will be mirrored in your viewing experience.  Gus' cigarette metaphor of unspeakable horrors is even worse in film. He's a character that has more front than Myers and the screenplay hasn't shied away from this brashness and irreverence which is a key character trait.  What makes the difference is Ansel Engort...but more about him later.

The screenplay is too loyal. There, I said it.  While the words on a page depict the entire world of Green's story, a film has speech and visuals to draw upon.  The screenplay, in including all the quotable quotes, overbaked the film. The actors' physicality made many of the lines unnecessary to that point where 20-30% of the dialogue could have been scaled back. I understand a readers' desire to see their favourite lines spoken aloud but haven't we learned from Twilight?  Whereas the lion and the lamb line may have (kinda) worked in the book, it lands heavily when leaving an actor's mouth.  The same can be said for many of the lines that now grace many memes (and probably skin) on Tumblr.

I cannot envision the possibility of a stronger cast. Shailene Woodley demonstrates her ability to dig her toes into the dirt and plays everything as true. She plays Hazel with a surety that makes the voiceover work and goodness knows this is an uphill climb in the best of projects.  Not only this but she is the sun in which the rest of the cast, characters and narrative orbit. There is no A to B here, there's just the world as it dips and weaves around a girl who is enormously strong but also sick.  With all the discussion of strong females, Hazel Grace Lancaster will rarely be named. Despite the lack of bow, or roundhouse kick, she is the strongest of them all. Don't look any further than a scene in Anne Frank's house for evidence of this strength of character and will.

Angel Elgort is a bit of a revelation.  But he did score the sparkier role.  But he wouldn't work if Shailene weren't the best scene partner a boy could have. And Gus is that, a boy. He's all swagger and bravado, a low slung cigarette that points out despite his experience with cancer and in hospitals, he's without much life experience.  He plays the Gus, who I borderline hated from the book, with panache. But it is the vulnerable moments were Elgort really shines, specifically the mentions of his now amputated leg and a certain love declaration that happens in a bed.  When he allows the projection of Gus fall away, you see the fragile boy beneath and it is heartbreakingly real. The actor is good, very good but it wouldn't work if his partner wasn't working hard (and making it look easy) beside him.

Laura Dern and Sam Trammell make the most of the several scenes they have as Hazel's parents.  It is what they do when they don't have line readings that really tunnel into one's chest cavity.  Dern has a well earned reputation as a gifted actress and she effortlessly commits to every emotion a parent of a dying child goes through.  Trammell has less screentime but a scene in which relief swamps him as he sees his daughter alive and moving towards him made the breath catch in my lungs.

The grizzled features of William Dafoe match the curmudgeonly Peter Van Houten splendidly.  While the actor wisely plays the character much less dramatically than the book, he's still a forceful presence in the film.

Small shoutout to the actress who played the younger Hazel. She was beautiful, soulful and a crazily effective match for Shailene.

Josh Boone did a serviceable job.  He clearly loved the materials and while it wasn't innovative filmmaking, it wasn't awful either.  The use of visual elements to flesh out the technological conversations of Gus and Hazel were a lovely touch.  The flashbacks, both at the very start of the film, and at its conclusion were very unnecessary. It robbed the audience of discovery.  It also failed to trust audience members to remember scenes that happens twenty minutes earlier. Perhaps this was a loving callback, but wasn't this the entire film?  It felt very much like a television framing device and was (again) unnecessary.

I'll also state that I disliked the opening and closing credits and their use of the books' design.  It was predictable and this film needed more surprises.

It's very good. I liked it so much that I really don't have words.

But everyone is going to talk about tears shed. I didn't cry, though there was a glassy moment.  But I would hate for this film to be reduced to a discussion on tears.  (Isn't that what we have Twitter and Instagram for? Seriously, before and after shots people?) If there's anything to crow about, it is the performances that elevate an overworked premise to uncover authenticity and life to a world that Green so lovingly created.


mysterysquid said...

Sounds like the best film then book could have hoped for. Thanks for the review!

Jenny P said...

Great review Adele. I read the book so long ago that I'm sure I'll love rediscovering the characters again through the film. Reassuring to read in this review that the actors and characters are well matched.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent review. I just listened to the audiobook (I read the novel when it first came out), and I found it more problematic this time through (probably because I'm sick to death of the coverage of the movie and John Green as the "prophet/savior" of YA). I suspect I have many of the same issues with Gus as you do, but hearing that Engort puts in a great performance makes me cautiously hopeful.

I really did love this review!