Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. This week: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.
JOHN: Two things must be mentioned before we delve too deep here. First, I've read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. I read it for the first time just this week, finishing it mere hours before seeing the movie. I loved it. The book has struck a chord with readers for a reason. Yes, it tells a love story about two teens who meet in a cancer support group, but it's never depressing. Sad, of course, but also funny, and the story it tells is an ultimately optimistic one. Second, I am a sucker for stories about making the most of your life with a limited amount of time, especially when you are acutely aware of how much time you actually have left. That might explain my love for movies like Meet Joe Black or 25th Hour. So, with that background in mind, Julie and I braved the sea of teenage girls and showed up early to get good seats in a sold-out theater, to watch the film version of The Fault in Our Stars (or #TFIOS for the Twitter-literate).
This is an excellent adaptation of the book. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber do a wondrous job of staying true to the source material, incorporating all of the best lines and moments (save for one, which I'll get to later), and condensing scenes in an organic, efficient manner. The final lines of the movie are actually an improvement over those in the book. So, consider that a big win. This is the third great script in a row from these two guys, who previously wrote (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now. If there's a market for young love stories in film, they've got it cornered.
But, a script is sometimes only as good as the actors reciting the lines, and TFIOS has that in spades. Shailene Woodley has been making a name for herself ever since she cried in a pool (under water!) in The Descendants. She was the best thing about Divergent, her other YA adaptation from earlier this year (we hammered out that one too), and she's off-her-rockers good here. Like, Oscar-nomination good. Her portrayal of Hazel Grace is a complete embodiment of the character: she's honest, cynical, tragic, loving, and altogether captivating. You can tell she "gets" this character and has a deep respect and affection for the source material. She may be a bit of a nutter in real life, but who cares when she turns in a performance like this? I bet studios were banking on Divergent to make her a superstar, but THIS is the movie that's going to do just that.
Also good, though not quite as good as Woodley, is Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters. He has a charming smile, and radiates just the right mix of confidence and awkwardness to suit the character. He has great, unforced chemistry with Woodley (maybe it helped that they played siblings in Divergent), and when the story takes a dramatic turn in the second half, Elgort rises to the occasion. The supporting cast is also solid, but Laura Dern and Sam Trammell deserve special praise for their nuanced work as Hazel's parents.
So yeah, we'll get into it more, but I really liked it. I think everyone else in our theater did too. The sobs were audible, and though I never really lost it at any point, I definitely got an emotional workout. What did you think, Jules? Is this THE love story for a new generation? How did it compare to the book for you? And, how happy were you with the prominent role a Butler t-shirt played in the movie?
JULIE: Go Dawgs!
I read The Fault in Our Stars back when it came out in 2012, and I loved it. I am very hard to please, book-wise, but TFIOS captivated me and surprised me, really because of its lack of sappiness. The movie captures that tone really well. This is a story about two teenagers in the throes of first love, it just so happens that their first love might also be their last love.
We saw this film in a theater packed with teens and tweens, and we were definitely the oldest people there. Watching the scene play out around us, I tried to put myself in their shoes. Is this the movie for their generation? Is this their Say Anything or Sixteen Candles? Are Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff the actors these kids will grow up with, marking time as they go from playing teens to twenty-somethings to parents to grandparents?
I hope they are. I hope The Fault in Our Stars becomes the pop cultural touchstone it has the capacity to be. These actors are talented and real and non-cookie cutter. Ansel Elgort actually has a face! A recognizable face! Also, I love that so many youngsters have embraced a story that's not about banging as many chicks as possible or getting wasted or getting a makeover. This is the coming-of-age story for a girl who has only so much time to come of age. It's simple, it's honest, and it's relatable.
Some talk has been made of the lack of development of Elgort's character, Augustus Waters. Which, eh. I don't have a problem with Gus in the movie. He's adorable and sweet. There's no game playing or backstabbing or ambivalence. He's all in from the first moment they meet, and I think that's fine. These are two kids who have lived with death at their doors for years. They don't have time for game playing. Also, I think there's more to him than the complainers are seeing. There is a complexity to his character based on what he's gone through and what he's lost. He loves Rik Smits! He's no cypher and he's no manic pixie dream boy.
I had another point to make, but it escapes me at the moment. So I will throw it to you. What issues did you have with the movie?
JOHN: Well, okay, SPOILER ALERT. SERIOUSLY. STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH. WARNING YOU ......>>>....>>>... Gus' cancer comes back. I think it's more of a slow burn in the book, and there are certain warning signals that eventually dawn on Hazel and the reader. In the movie, Gus and Hazel sleep together. Gus has been fine all this time, and then he tells her. It kind of felt a little cheap, like, yeah - I got you in bed, we've culminated our love and now it's time for the other shoe to drop. I guess I wanted more of a gradual decline in Gus. I wanted to see that on screen, but that takes up time and this has no business being a three-hour movie or anything. I get it. END SPOILER.
That may be more of a personal hang-up though. The movie mostly avoids any real missteps, save for one. It's the scene in Amsterdam when Gus and Hazel go to Anne Frank's house, and Hazel has to climb all these stairs, which is not easy for her given her trouble breathing. That stuff is all well and good, but then they get to the attic and Hazel kisses Gus for the first time (also fine), and then...all the other visitors start clapping for them. It doesn't work. It's kind of cheesy. I wished they hadn't taken that extra step.
Also, I never really "got" the Isaac character in the book, and the same holds true for the movie. I think Nat Wolff does a swell job playing Isaac - the character is just such a weird dude. His two big scenes involve him slamming trophies or throwing eggs. Again, just kind of weird. Not all that funny. But oh well.
One other personal hang-up: I love John Green's explanation of the title. It's a beautiful little passage in the book, and I was convinced they were going to save it for Gus' letter at the end, but it was never used! Maybe it would have been too on-the-nose. I don't know. It was one of my favorite parts of the book, so I was sorry to see it cut.
But, I guess all is forgiven. Especially when we get such a delicious scene in Amsterdam, where Gus and Hazel visit reclusive author Peter Van Houten (an enjoyable Willem Dafoe), and are subject to listening to about a minute of Swedish hip-hop. Such a great scene - it's funny and then it just gets uncomfortable. Well done.
Did any of this jog your memory about what points you wanted to make?
JULIE: Ugh. The clapping in the Anne Frank house was all kinds of wrong. Clapping in movies in general is a poor choice, and this is no exception. This movie is so personal and insular. Adding random clapping tourists simply does not work.
I didn't have any problems with Isaac, other than I thought he was supposed to be black, for some reason. Nat Wolff, who's poised to break out further as the lead in another movie-based-on-a-John-Green-novel, Paper Towns, does a great job here. He is an actor I'd like to see more of. I think he has a Miles Teller quality about him, minus the air of douchiness (which really works for Miles Teller, all told). The Isaac character is kind of half-baked, but I like that they're showing this version of a "cancer story," even in snippets. He's a survivor, who has been terribly scarred by the disease, but still manages to live a mostly "normal," sexy life, full of heartbreak and the kind of passion that has you throwing eggs at that bitch's car in the broad daylight.
Other things I loved about the movie -- the parents are more of a factor here. Laura Dern is fantastic, and so is Sam-from-True-Blood. As an old person with small children, their plight really resonated with me in the book and on screen. Both actors play their parts with tons of nuance and pain that bubbles just under the surface at all times. You really get a sense of what their daily life is like, having lived with their daughter's cancer for so many years now.
The scene with Willem Dafoe and the Swedish hip-hop could rival the Alfred Molina scene from Boogie Nights in its use of music that is inappropriate for the tone of the scene.
And I just love seeing Indianapolis get the spotlight for once, even if most of the movie wasn't filmed there.
I guess whatever thought I had wasn't that important because it still eludes me. What else do you have to add?
JOHN: A couple of things. The soundtrack is great. I've been listening to it on Spotify the last few days, and it compliments the movie to a tee. I thought director Josh Boone handles his actors well, but apart from a few visual flourishes (mostly involving texts on screen) and a nice sense of restraint and tastefulness (which, honestly, comes more from Green's book than from Boone), he doesn't really make much of an impression. But, this movie will do really well, and it should give him a huge career boost. His only other movie, the ensemble dramedy Stuck in Love, is fairly minor and forgettable, so I'll be interested to see what he chooses to do next.
I think TFIOS will have a big impact on its intended audience. Bring tissues because the odds of you crying are high. Fans of the book will love it. There is great respect for the source material. Fans of doomed romances and tearjerkers will love it. It's pretty hard to find too much at "fault" here. What do you rate it?
JULIE: On the Shailene Woodley clothing scale from The Descendents bikini to skanky toe shoes, I give it the prom dress from The Spectacular Now.
JOHN: Um... So that's a positive review then? I give it 4 out of 5 stars. In a summer full of big tentpole pictures, I think this little $12 million movie comes from the heart and will have people talking. In many ways, it's the first true event movie of the summer. Okay? Okay.
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