THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (Josh Boone, 2014)
However strong your emotional threshold may be, it's hard not to fall in love with the story of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, where two youngsters, both afflicted with cancer find solace in one another. I, for one was not ashamed to have sat through the 313-page young adult novel because I felt there was something brutally honest in the premise, and thank God we can have a YA sensation that does not include vampires, or absurdly supernatural love triangles (I'm looking at you, MORTAL INSTRUMENTS!).
Enter the film adaptation, which I anticipated mostly because of the film's female lead and narrator Hazel Grace Lancaster being played by talented young actress Shailene Woodley. Woodley proved herself a capable actress ever since she starred as George Clooney's daughter in THE DESCENDANTS, and as Hazel Grace, a role which will be her career- defining moment, Woodley is utterly perfect. One could not have wished a prettier, and more capable young actress.
The same could not be said about Woodley's onscreen partner Ansel Elgort, who plays the beautiful madness that is Augustus Waters. Elgort is handsome and charming, but when captured by the camera side by side with Woodley, the acting just doesn't quite match up. The big revelation by Elgort to Woodley in that bench scene in Amsterdam was particularly bland, and Woodley's magnanimous presence just eats him all up.
One more great casting choice is Laura Dern as mother to Woodley's character. Dern easily navigates her character's humor and pathos that we empathize with her struggles as a mother faced with the fact that her only child can be taken from her any minute. And so she spends every waking minute all smiles and charm, but behind them you notice the anxiety.
Josh Boone's onscreen adaptation of the book may actually be what the book's legions of fans want: a straight-cut visual translation where even some of the memorable lines from the source material is spoken in the film. Almost all of the elements of the book are present, from Isaac and his experience with heartbreak, to the writer Peter Van Houten, and even the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
In fact, the scene in the Anne Frank House was the film's very powerful moment. Hazel Grace risking certain death just so she can test her limitations, and in the process be able to have a fuller understanding of what it means to be alive demands our attention. I felt every tormenting climb for Hazel Grace, as every foot up the ladder worsens her breathing.
I liked the film. It was faithful to the book, it has a nice soundtrack and Shailene Woodley is impossible to resist. But the film is not without "faults".
First objection- the shift of the Amsterdam dinner scene from outdoor to indoor. Logistical problems, perhaps? Granted that, the detail change robs the film a visual metaphor to the film's title. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS= dinner under the stars? Get it?
Shakespeare was also taken out of the equation (in reference to the book's title).
Second objection- Willem Dafoe as Peter Van Houten. Dafoe is an actor of the highest caliber, but as Van Houten, his acting seems way off, perhaps too conscious for its own good. Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been a better casting choice (God rest his soul), as a friend of mine suggested.
Last but not the least- I think the film lacked emotional depth during the third act, as opposed to the gravitational pull of the book during said part. The scenes where all things spiral out of control were filmed and edited in a rush, leaving reduced room for empathy.
Also, Augustus' look and makeup in the third act did not look like he was a boy about to die.
In summation, I think there really are elements from a book you cannot translate onscreen. Words, when strategically placed, punctuated, and emphasized have specific rifle effects. The book benefits from John Green's sharp wit and capable command of satire, but he also knows when and where to hurt. The film is beautiful to look at, its leads are charming, and you want to follow an audiovisual version of a story you just identified with, and TFIOS the movie is a good enough movie adaptation. However, it could also use a more relaxed pacing to explore the source material's many layers of death and dying, and yes, living.