The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite book. So, I accepted that I was going into this film with a ton of expectations, no matter how much I tried to lower them. John Green wrote a book that truly captured feelings that I, and millions of others around the world struggle with, and wrote them in such a way that we can all feel understood. I wanted the film to capture the fact that a short life can be a good life, and that you don’t have to be perfect or strong all the time (even when you’re sick), to be a true, admirable, and complete person. It needed to bring across that those real random beautiful moments you have with other people are the true meaning of existence, and it’s not how many people love you, it’s how deeply you are loved.
I was worried that when taking a book that has all those important issues encapsulated in such a great package, and bringing it to screen, some of the important messages would be sacrificed for Hollywood cliches like I’ve seen so many times before. However…they did it! The film is a complete success, and the most faithful adaptation I’ve seen. In a way, The Fault in Our Stars is like a modern-day John Hughes movie. I feel like we could be watching this and loving it in 20 years, just like The Breakfast Club. The novel is adapted expertly by Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, so the parts of the story that are needed shine, while the pieces that are not required are left for imaginations to enjoy in the novel when we read it over and over again.
I was afraid that they would take Hazel – such a simple yet complicated, relatable, and totally unselfish character – and turn her into someone she isn’t. After seeing Divergent and some of Shailene Woodley’s other films I will admit I was thinking…can she do this? Can she be Hazel? Yes, she can. Shailene Woodley’s powerhouse performance as Hazel Grace Lancaster in this film is the glue that transcends everything else. She’s quiet, yet strong. She is my kind of strong female character – one that has her weaknesses, but has a fierce and powerful soul and is truly a good person. She doesn’t have to be like Katniss Everdeen, Hit-Girl, or even Tris Prior…she isn’t heading to battle with hand-to-hand combat or a bow and arrow. She’s battling issues within herself that we all face, to a certain degree.
Especially after seeing Divergent, the contrast of Shailene’s Hazel performance was shocking in a really amazing way. Hazel in John Green’s novel has this way about her – she comes across as confident in her internal dialogue, but she describes herself as someone that isn’t one to raise her hand and speak up…which is why Patrick was so surprised when she spoke up in response to Gus at support group. Maintaining that beautiful balance between Hazel’s confidence and soft-spoken, almost shyness, was key, since we don’t get to be inside her head 100% of the time like in the book. We have to feel Hazel’s quiet confidence, not actually hear her thoughts. Shailene Woodley nailed it.
Casting the role of Augustus Waters was always going to be tricky, because he really is sort of a “manic pixie dream guy” in the sense that he’s always initiating and spouting these long monologues of romance. This comes across well on the page, but it could be rather jarring and unrealistic on the big screen. They needed to find someone who was naturally charismatic and could have the effect that Gus has on Hazel…with Shailene. We all know how long it took to find Theo James for the role of Four in Divergent, Shailene is just so strong and finding someone to “disarm” her and make her melt under their presence is easier said than done. When Ansel was cast, people were naturally confused because he plays her brother in that franchise, and is also younger than Shai and quite fresh faced. Is this really Augustus? Yes!
Ansel really maintains a quality of kindness, since when a guy is coming up to a girl and offering grand monologues about how beautiful they are…girls can often see through the cheese. Augustus Waters needs to have real sincerity when he tells Hazel Grace that he enjoys looking at beautiful people. He’s not just saying it to get her to go out with him or get into her pants, he actually means it. Ansel’s sincerity really shines, and his youthful puppy-dog-like eyes and expression realy work for the character. In ways, his portrayal of Augustus is different than I anticipated the character would come across on screen, but like John Green has said…Ansel Elgort made Gus real. He is no longer a mysterious tall dark and handsome figure with florescent blue eyes, he’s a real person. Ansel Elgort took those challenging and somewhat pretentious lines (as Isaac points out later – “God, he’s pretentious!”) and made them sound like he was actually saying them and meaning them, not just reading a script.
Nat Wolff captured the personality of Isaac that we all loved in the books, and added some excellent moments of humor. I loved how he called out Augustus and said, “I’m deaf not blind! I can hear you when you make fun of my disability and I don’t love it!” His humor is so real, so dry, and he really adds a ton of excellent comic relief to the plot. One sad thing is that due to the fact that a movie can’t be 4 hours long and Hazel and Augustus really are the priority here, Isaac doesn’t really seem to be as close with Hazel Grace as in the book. In the book they have moments of bonding in the hospital, and others, but in the film they almost just seem like acquaintances. This is okay, and a worthwhile sacrifice to make the romance at the center of the film seem realistic and true, but it’s still a sad loss! What we got of Isaac was absolutely excellent, and he centers some of nerdfighteria’s favorite scenes including the trophy smashing scene, and the egg-throwing scene!
The film really had to take a turn in Amsterdam, as everything begins to fall apart and the fact that “the world is not a wish granting factory,” really starts to rear it’s head. After following our characters through some adorable romantic scenes that we are laughing and “aww”-ing at for an hour, the film has to take a drastic turn to the solemn. Shailene and Ansel couldn’t just be good at the natural comedy and chemistry, they had to bring the tears and make them feel legitimate and full of real feeling. Boy, did they do it.
The love scene in this film was just that: a love scene. It wasn’t a sex scene, it was truly a scene in which you could feel the palpable love between these characters and it was enough to make you cry. Even before anything actually sad was happening! The way Ben Richardson shot the scene and focused on how appreciative and loving Hazel and Augustus are to each-other, made it transcend the page and work well on screen. You could just see that they had found exactly what everyone wants to find – someone who speaks their language, appreciates them, and loves them exactly for who they are….and it’s beautiful.
Shailene and Ansel truly captured a pair of ill-fated lovers who’s fault really was in their stars, and they just had to deal with the hand they were given. At no point do their performances seem stale or hard, and the film never dips into Lifetime melodrama territory. These characters always just seem to be facing the stark and cold realities of life.
A big aspect of finding an actor to play Gus is not the confidence and swagger – it’s the ability to play that swagger naturally while realizing that for Gus, it’s all just an act. He isn’t really that cool, swaggery metaphor-wielding leading man that he wants everyone to believe he is – underneath it all, when we strip away our walls we’ll find someone different. For Gus, we had to be able to watch those walls he puts up to make people view him as “that guy,” and be able to see a much more vulnerable person underneath. That person that is revealed has to be a complete and whole, and realistic character as well, and Ansel did it.
When Hazel and Augustus are sitting in the park and having the conversation about making a mark on the world, and Hazel gets angry at Gus, it truly encapsulates the performance we needed. You can see the fire in both of our characters eyes, as Gus so desperately explains that all he wanted was to leave a mark on this world, and dying at age 18 before he got to do any of that rips a hole in him so big that he just can’t even deal with the unfairness. Then, Hazel tells him so much truth…and in a way, in the scene, we are all Gus. We all have had that thought, that we want to leave a mark on the world and be amazing and perfect and have the whole world love us. However, that’s just not the point.
The point is – we can tread lightly on this world, like Hazel, and be loved deeply and not widely. We can even have a short life, and that doesn’t make us any less important or good, or complete. It’s okay.