All right, how many people cried at the theater this weekend? Kate and Wendy did, because we both went to see Edge of Tomorrow. Kidding, kidding–that part is true, but we’re here to talk about the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, based on the crazily popular novel by John Green.
Quick background: Kate has read the book and really liked it, even though she felt she’d been emotionally manipulated; Wendy has thus far resisted all John Green novels and ultimately decided to go into the movie fresh. Some spoilers are inevitable, so proceed at your own risk.
So here’s what we thought–be sure and let us know your reaction to the movie, or if you’re planning on seeing it!
Wendy: I admit it: I cried. I was doing pretty well and thinking to myself, “Okay, this isn’t so bad,” and then that scene in the car at the gas station happened and it was just all downhill from there. It’s a good thing we stopped at Walgreen’s right before the movie to load up on tissues.
Kate: I’m so glad you had the forethought to do that. I actually cried almost every time that Laura Dern was onscreen, because it seems like living your life around a person who is going to die at any moment would be the worst fucking thing. In the scene where she ran out of the bathtub because she thought Shailene was dying the tears just dumped themselves down my face and there was nothing I could do about it.
Wendy: She made me tear up as well. She was really a stand-in for most of us–the people who are left behind. Weren’t Shailene and Ansel great in this? Their performances felt so natural and unselfconscious, and I liked all the supporting actors as well, Sam Trammel as Hazel’s dad to Nat Wolff, who played Gus’ best friend Isaac.
Kate: I actually didn’t think Shailene was right for the role. I think she did a really good job (she’s such a great actor), but the dialogue had a little bit of that stylized Joss Whedon / Aaron Sorkin thing going on, and I didn’t think she ever fell into that pocket where the quirky stuff felt natural. She was amazing in the earnest moments where she’s onscreen alone, you know, crying and shit, but I just didn’t buy her in the humorous parts, and because of that I didn’t feel the chemistry between her and Ansel. Which is funny, because otherwise I would say that Ansel is one of those actors who could have chemistry with a bucket of rocks (although the amount of eye contact he made was borderline creepy).
She also–and I think a lot of this was the haircut they gave her–looked about five years older than he did. I know she’s a few years his senior in real life, but his character is supposed to be the older of the two of them.
Wendy: Oh, interesting! I responded well to her performance, maybe because the Gus character was so quirky himself that Hazel came off as more of the straight man. I liked her in this, and I think casting on the basis of those huge emotional scenes isn’t a bad choice. But I would agree their chemistry felt much more like really good friends chemistry rather than romantic interest chemistry. And she did look older than he did, though I liked that they left her looking more natural. Those freckles were too sweet.
Kate: Man, those freckles. SO freaking cute. And Ansel’s teeth! Maybe Ansel’s was the performance that bugged me. Maybe he leaned too far into the quirkiness.
Wendy: Maybe. I’m guessing that’s just the character, however, and for me, those performances worked because both of them approached their characters without any irony whatsoever. I think what I appreciated most about this movie was how deeply sincere the whole film felt. From the acting to the directing to the music, there was a very real sense that this story mattered to the people involved in it, and there wasn’t a huge feeling of “we’re making this movie for teenagers,” where sometimes you get shortcuts and hurried narratives. It might’ve been a teeny bit too generous with some of that time, but I did like that the filmmakers trusted in their audience and gave the story a chance to unfold.
Kate: I KNOW. So, so respectful. There were a few parts where it felt to me like maybe Shailene was too much a fan of the source material? Does that makes sense? Like she was too aware that a moment was poignant? (I know it seems like I’m picking Shailene apart, and that’s only because this is HER movie. She’s the star. Everyone else supports her.) I was especially impressed with the performances of the adult actors, and by how much they were given to do–I fully expected all the stuff with Hazel’s parents to be cut out to make room for MOAR ROMANCE.
Wendy: Yeah, same here. They’re the ones most of us identify with, though, so it was smart to keep it. Not to mention parents are a still a huge part of most kids’ lives, and it’s nice to see that portrayed onscreen in a teen movie.
Kate: YES. Hooray for good parents! I also laughed when I saw that Willem Dafoe had been cast to play the drunk author, because every time I see him in anything, no matter how good he is, I think about (I’m laughing about it now) those scenes in Spider-Man where he talks to himself, you know, Gollum-style. ALSO: Boy, is Lotte Verbeek ever distractingly gorgeous. Everyone in this move looks real and normal (especially Shailene), and then suddenly this supermodel shows up with a leather jacket in the exact same shade of burgundy as the sweater she’s wearing under it, and I had to like reboot my brain to get things to make sense. It is complete bullshit that she is also talented.
Wendy: She is crazy beautiful. That coloring and those delicate features are already to die for, but she made you feel something for her character’s position, too. Hard to do, in what would normally be a fairly thankless and unmemorable role. I also want that light as air scarf she just casually throws on when she goes out into the street to find them.
Wendy: I’ve avoided reading the book thus far because a. I haven’t really been in a place where I’ve felt like I could handle a story where kids are dying and b. the massive hype and cutesty stuff that have filtered down have made me wary. And to be honest, I had to separate some of my preconceived notions about the source material and the author’s occasionally controversial online persona to watch this movie, because I do want to support good YA film adaptations. But I’m curious how you thought the film stacked up against the book, Kate. I assume they kept a great deal of the dialogue?
Kate: Yeah, no major changes. Hey, did the animated text bubbles bother you? They did me, a bit–I think partially because they also showed inserts of the texts on their iPhone screens. I think I would have liked it better if the texts had continued to be displayed that way throughout the movie OR if they just hadn’t been childish handwriting in wiggly dialogue bubbles. I don’t know. I like the way texts are displayed on the screen in other movies and tv shows (like Sherlock on the BBC), but the dancing words…
Wendy: Normally that kind of thing bothers me because I think filmmakers are trying too hard and it’s a distraction, but it didn’t really bug me much here, maybe because with all the cutesy stuff tied to the book and movie promotions, I was already expecting it? The squiggly handwriting font was a little much, though I think it would appeal to its core audience of the text-speak generation.
It’s funny because I thought I was either going to bawl like a baby the entire time or I was going to be really angry at feeling manipulated. And yet my reaction was somewhere in between–I have a great deal of admiration for the way they pulled everything together, and I was definitely touched by it and cried a number of times towards the end. (Gas station/car scene, the scene in church, and when she’s lying on her bed.) I think it’s important to experience these kinds of stories, because the heart I try to protect from traumatic emotions really does need a jolt every once in awhile. I think audiences also respond well to stories like this that are told with some humor, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s 50/50. And how nice to see stories about people with illnesses and disabilities, huh? And portraying real stories about ordinary people in a way that makes you care about them, vs. the bubble gum “yay diversity” stuff we are inundated with from shows like Glee.
Kate: I cried more at the book than the movie (but of course I did–it was all in my head, and that’s so much more poignant), but I really liked the type of tears I got to let out while watching the movie. They just sort of fell out of my eyes without making a fuss. I didn’t make a Claire Danes ugly face or anything. I cried like a badass warrior lady.
Wendy: I’m not always a fan of hyper self-aware dialogue, but the bordering-on-too-precocious musings of Augustus did win me over, particularly because at one point I just thought, you know, boys like this really do exist. They’re earnest and smart and well-read, and that doesn’t always look cool and polished, and in person sometimes it’s like an over-eager puppy wearing you down. But I grew to love that sunny personality, especially when you see the contrast later. It also helped that Hazel and Isaac respond to him with a healthy degree of skepticism and humor–it’s disarming, and felt like a nod from the script/story that “yes, he’s too much sometimes, but don’t you love him anyway?” And I did.
Kate: Agreed. Plenty of teenagers are like this–or pretend to be, which is kind of the same thing. It’s the hormones. And the exposure to John Green novels.
Wendy: Heh. So true! Oh, I also liked all the set design and costuming. It felt like people lived in those houses and sat in those church basements, and for once, teenagers are dressed like real teenagers, not like the super shiny tv version of teenagers. Even the scene when they get dressed up to go to dinner, it wasn’t some glam ballgown with a plunging neckline. I liked that when you went over to Gus’ house, there was boy crap everywhere, and that scene in the hotel wasn’t a perfectly made bed, and it was a little bit fumbly and sweet.
Kate: YES. I also loved that for most of the movie, Laura Dern looked like she had never heard of a hairbrush, but when they took their trip, she was able to take the time to actually fix herself up a bit, and you could kind of see what she must have been like before her daughter got so sick.
They also did really great things with the cut of Shailene’s clothes. Everything was like a full size too baggy, so she looked like she couldn’t keep on weight. And that basement was SUCH a teenage boy’s room.
Wendy: I like both those observations–the costuming was particularly good because it felt subtle, and appropriate for where she was in her stage of illness. I admit the first kiss in Anne Frank’s attic weirded me out, though–when I think of what that family experienced in that space, part of me is aghast at that sort of display in a place that I think about with such respect and sadness. That moment was a little too Hollywood for me, and while I understand being moved by the moment or whatever, I was still a bit annoyed. But you know, Anne herself probably wouldn’t have minded seeing that, so…there’s that, hah. Now I want to reread The Diary of Anne Frank.
Kate: I can’t weigh in on this because I got up to pee during that scene. I hate the sound it makes when people kiss onscreen. It sounds like an old man smacking on his food. It really creeps me out. I thought I was being smart and that I’d miss the scene in the hotel AFTER the Anne Frank house, but I was gone just long enough to re-enter the theater at exactly the worst moment. I thought that scene at the hotel worked really well, though, and the awkwardness of talking to the mom the next morning was great.
Wendy: Yeah, the morning after was handled perfectly–a teeny bit mortifying, but there’s all that secret happiness going on. I think what the adaptations for TFIOS and Divergent both proved is that the filmmakers didn’t just decide to do a “teen” film, they just set out to do a good film. If you think about the ones that have stayed classics like Clueless or Mean Girls or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Dead Poets Society or The Breakfast Club, those all work because they appeal to moviegoers of all ages. The protagonists just happen to be teens. It’s not unlike really good YA literature in that sense.
Kate: I am fascinated by adults who can’t enjoy well-told stories about younger people, Wendy. I think they fear their own mortality, and that seeing teenagers accomplishing things and living full lives taps into that visceral fear, because, holy shit, those people act like grownups but they are half (or a third, whatever) the age of the disdainful person. There’s other stuff in there, too–lack of empathy comes to mind–but I think fear is a big part of it.
Wendy: I’m glad to see that the film did so well this weekend. If we continue to get great adaptations, and they’re a success, that can only mean positive things for the YA community. Both in terms of seeing better adaptations that receive the kind of attention they deserve, as well as in terms of getting more people interested in reading these books.
Kate: I know. I am genuinely a fan of anything that gets people to read, and I think this movie does that. BTW, did you see the thing where Vee from Orange is the New Black reads TFIOS and calls John Green a sick fuck?
Wendy: I snickered when I saw the screenshot going around. We haven’t gotten to that episode yet, but I’m looking forward to it. You have to have a sense of humor about these things, even if I ended up liking the story more than I thought I would. I was surprised by how sincerely I was drawn in by the story line and characters. Isn’t it funny that we’ve arrived at a place where a lack of cynicism actually feels refreshing?
Incidentally, if you were considering seeing Maleficent, GO DO IT! Wendy loved the risks it took with its revisionist history, and it’s such a positive female-centric story. We can’t wait for How to Train Your Dragon 2 and are curious about If I Stay as well.
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Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox.