Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: "The Fault in Our Stars"

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars was one of the best books I read in 2012. I have eagerly anticipated this movie since I heard it was to be made, and absolutely devoured every article, every trailer, every photo I saw during the filming. In fact, it's only the emotional upheaval that my life has undergone in the last few months that has kept me from seeing this movie sooner, because I didn't know if I was psychologically ready for it. But whether or not I was, or am, it was time to rip the bandage off.

So the first question you might ask is, given how much I loved the book and how much the book still resonates with me, was the movie able to fulfill my expectations? In short: hell, yeah.

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is a 17-year-old who has been living with cancer for several years now. In fact, she's still alive due to the success of a clinical trial of an experimental drug. But (understandably) her inevitably terminal disease leaves her depressed, the fact that she has to tote a portable oxygen tank around because her lungs are so damaged limits her activities, and she mostly just stays at home reading her favorite book (which is also about cancer and dying). Her mother and her doctor convince her to go to a cancer support group.

After one inevitably eye-rolling session, she is forced back again, and there she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a handsome, confident guy and a survivor in his own right, who lost part of one of his legs to cancer a few years back but is in remission. Gus is immediately taken with Hazel Grace, her willingness to call it like it is and resist any attempt at sentimentality. And while Gus definitely intrigues Hazel Grace, she isn't willing to let anyone get too close to her given the limited amount of time she has left.

But this is a movie, after all, so at first the two bond over her favorite book and the mysteries its ending leaves them with, and the two get closer and closer, until they admit that they're falling in love with each other. But remember, this is a movie in which the main characters meet in a support group for cancer survivors, so you've got to know where this is headed. (And I'm not going to spoil this for you if you haven't read the book or seen the movie yet.)

What I loved so much about John Green's book was its dialogue. It was intelligent without being pretentious, cutting, and poignant without being maudlin. And it translates tremendously well onscreen. (The fact that Green was so closely involved with the movie definitely helped here.) The characters say things you'd imagine they might say, and while they might not always be 100 percent likeable, they're tremendously real.

I'll admit that when I read the book—a day or two after it was published, and I stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. to finish it—I saw (despite the age difference) Ryan Gosling as Gus and Mae Whitman as Hazel Grace. I don't know why, but those were the images my brain conjured up. Despite being a fan of Shailene Woodley since The Descendants, I had never seen Ansel Elgort in a movie before (which was understandable, since he had only been in the disastrous remake of Carrie when he was cast in this film), so I wasn't sure whether they'd succeed in bringing these characters I so loved to life on screen.

But boy, did they ever. Woodley perfectly captured Hazel Grace's cynicism tinged with hopefulness, and the way she allows herself to fall in love with Gus. ("I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.") Elgort's mixture of bravado and vulnerability was terrific, and his adoration of Hazel Grace is clearly something so many people dream of from their loved ones. Laura Dern does a wonderful job as Hazel Grace's mother, and Nat Wolff has a small but well-done role as Gus' friend Isaac.

Considering I cried when I first saw the trailer, I was ready for utter emotional upheaval when watching the movie. And that's definitely what happened. There was lots of sniffling in the theater, but this movie doesn't manipulate you—it draws you into these characters' lives and makes you care about them, makes you root for them despite what you think is going to happen. This is a funny, sweet, emotional movie. So rarely do adaptations of books work as well as this one did. And while it took me a few hours to pull myself together, I'd do it all again to spend more time with Gus and Hazel Grace.

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