The Fault in Our Stars is not a story about cancer. The Fault in Our Stars is a story about love. It's about the kind of love that most people only dream about, that very few find, and that those who have experienced will never forget.
I love this movie. I hated it too. I felt the same way about the book. I feel the same way about a lot of things, the things that make me feel so deeply that I am grateful for the experience but devastated by it as well.
It's not that either the book or the movie is so profound or brilliant. It is a young adult novel and film for that matter, after all. But it was sweet and sad and simple and true. And that felt really nice for a change. I will admit, it had a few lines that will stay with me for a long time. And, yes, the book - and the movie - made me cry. It's all about giving in and letting go. Curmudgeons need not apply.
The story is of star-crossed lovers. If you haven't read the book or seen the film and intend to, stop reading this post now. Big time spoiler alerts ahead. Girl, Hazel, meets boy, Gus, in cancer support group. Girl is slowly dying. Boy is in remission. Boy falls for girl. Girl calls herself a grenade and insists they just remain friends. Love overwhelms girl. Girl gets sicker. Girl gets better. Boy gets sicker. Boy dies.
The book and the film are filled with lovely symbols and metaphors. Some of them more obvious than others. Some of them words. Some of them visuals. One of my favorites in the movie is Hazel and Isaac, Gus' best friend, sitting where Hazel's childhood swing set once resided. The playset amputated like Gus' leg. The site, a barren background where the two talk about their loss, an amputation of sorts as well.
It's a beautiful scene. It's a beautiful movie. It's a beautiful book.
It's a rough book too. And an equally rough movie. The actors are terrific. Shalilene Woodley as Hazel is charming and heartbreaking and just bitter enough to believe her bite. Ansel Elgort as Gus is gentle and kind and infinitely romantic. There were a few casting choices that were a bit perplexing. Laura Dern as Hazel's mom is one of those.
Something about her description in the book left me hankering for a more stereotypical, middle-class, "mom type," complete with brunette bob and less stick figure body type. Not that I love those stereotypes. But if the writer writes them in, I expect the movie to follow suit.
David Whalen and Milica Govich as Gus' parents seemed a bit off too. For people whose home is supposed to be filled with vapid "Hang in There" type quotes, I, again, expected a more "Midwestern" / "Middle America" kind of look. But that it the danger of a movie that comes from a book. Readers have a habit of visualizing characters in their mind whether they choose to or not.
Much like Hazel who had questions for the author of her favorite book. I was left with some questions, in addition to casting, about some choices made for the film that were quite contrary to the book.
1. Why did Hazel and Gus eat inside the restaurant instead of outside on the streets of Amsterdam with the confetti of blossoms falling all around them? Such a gorgeous and revealing image in the book. The two lovers thrilled, the locals annoyed. Like so many things we see too much of. We lose sight of the intense beauty and instead see nothing but a bother.
2. How could they not include these lines when Gus asks Hazel out after they first meet? "Patience, grasshopper," I counseled. "You don't want to seem overeager."
"Right, that's why I said tomorrow," he said. "I want to see you again tonight. But I'm willing to wait all night and much of tomorrow."
My daughter's favorite lines, by the way. And, from the looks of things online, a favorite of many readers. Such a sweet sentiment and so telling and true of young love or any new, true love for that matter. So anxious and excited. So ready.
3. Why does Hazel wear low cut shirts from the start and then a high cut one in Amsterdam which is exactly opposite of how that works in the book? And the dress is a gift from her mom. Why? And why is she wearing a winter a coat in Amsterdam? It seems like it's Spring in the book, which makes so much more sense for falling in love in Amsterdam. And moving from modesty to showing a little skin feels so much more informative than the other way around. She is finally ready for Gus to see her in a new light so she "reveals" herself in a new way.
4. Why do we never see Hazel with her friend from school? It gives her a context, a life outside of cancer.
5. Why don't we see more of Hazel reading the books Gus loves and playing video games, which is so prominent in the book? Again, this offers context that gives us more than "Hazel equals cancer."
6. No viewing at funeral? No chance for Hazel to sneak Gus' smokes in the casket? Why not? It was so poignant in the novel "seeing" her kiss him on the check as he lays dead in the coffin while every other mourner can only bring him or herself to touch the box and not the boy in it.
7. Why didn't Peter Van Houten have a big belly? Willem Dafoe was amazing. But would it have been so hard to give him the round bulge so oft described in the book? And loud rap music blares as he answers the door in the book when Gus and Hazel arrive. Why have the secretary do it in silence in the movie? Again, it is jarring when character details that are so specific in the book disappear in a film, especially ones that seem so simple to adhere to.
8. In the book, Gus' parents filled the house with mind-numbing quotes that Gus' parents called "Encouragements." We see maybe two in the movie. Why is that? These quotes informed the reader greatly about the parents and what made them people outside of being Gus' parents. Again, these missing details left me longing for context.
9. And most importantly, how could they have Van Houten bring Hazel the eulogy Gus wrote for her? The mystery and tension of searching for it was so telling in the book.
I know films struggle when they are adapting a book. How do you maintain the tension, excitement, drama, humor, whatever it was that the book held and do it on the screen and within specific visual and time constraints? Still some of the things seemed so simple, it left me as the viewer wondering why the change when the story leapt from page to screen.
All of that aside, the story itself is beautiful and although cancer is what moves the story forward, love is what the story is about. It's about the kind of love that some say you only see in the movies or books.
But it's not true.
That love is out there. And it's worth it. Ultimately, that's what Fault in Our Stars is about. When it comes to love, no matter how risky it might be, you say, "Yes." You always say, "Yes." In fact, you would be wise to say, "Yes, please."
Because you never know. None of us know. How long we'll live. When we'll die. When the love of our life will be taken from us. So you live and you love. You love hard. You love big. You love who you love even if it's scary. Even if it's not who you expected. Even if they're dying. Or you're dying. Because we're all dying. The only thing we're promised is oblivion. The only real hope we have is now.
I'm with Tennyson.
"Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."
And I'm with Green.
"I'm in love with you," he said quietly.
"Augustus," I said.
"I am," he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you."