At the beginning of the year, I read a Buzzfeed article titled "16 Books To Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year" and it got me thinking: maybe I should read all of these books before they hit movies this year! Challenge accepted! Granted, four of the movies were released before February 14th, so I completely missed their releases and now have to wait until they are out on DVD (which all of them now are). Therefore, these reviews won't be posted in order of reading but rather in order of when I can finish both the move and the film. Of the seven movies released so far, I've read three of the books, one is in progress, and I've only seen one movie, which brings me to my first complete review of:
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
Here's the Buzzfeed synopsis:
A tumor-shrinking medical miracle bought Hazel a few years of time, but she’s a terminal time bomb, suffering from stage IV cancer. At a support group for her illness, she meets fellow cancer survivor Augustus Waters, a boy who pretends to smoke cigarettes and has a prosthetic leg. With a shared obsession for the novel An Imperial Affliction and a similar sense of sarcasm, the two fall in love, despite their inevitable fate. John Green’s story is honest and hilarious, exposing the fear, anger, and sadness that accompanies a terminal illness
Many, MANY people love this book. Many consider it life-altering. I thought it was very good, and while it certainly moved me, I wouldn't go so far as to say it changed my life. In fact, for the most part, it's a story many of us have read or seen before, but there is something really lovely about it that has really affected it's young readers.
The story is narrated by Hazel Grace, the 16-year-old protagonist, who's had cancer for four years and, though given extra time through an experimental drug, is terminal. I really appreciated her voice, which, unlike many teenage girl narrators in YA fiction she wasn't whiny, boy crazy, or irrationally rebellious. It was wonderful until you realize that, to quote a NY Times review, while "[Hazel and Augustus] know the meaning of their own lives," it's the cancer that gives them that "state of perfection." I did find, however, that the dialogue suffered from what Ben and I call "Gilmore Girl syndrome" (I think what we actually say is "the dialogue was like the 'Gilmore Girls'" but giving it a name seemed best for this purpose) which is dialogue that surpasses normal levels of cleverness and wit. It doesn't usually bother me much, but in this case it did take me out of the story from time to time. Augustus's dialogue seemed especially contrived at times. That being said there was some beautiful prose, like "I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
And there is a great deal of humor. You really can't have a story like this without it. One thing I found especially hilarious was that their cancer support group meetings take place at the junction of a church nave and transept where, on the cross, Jesus' heart would have laid, thus, in "the literal heart of Jesus." Jokes abound about sick children spending time in the literal heart of Jesus. Classic. The interactions felt very real to me; messy and at times chaotic, but wonderful. Like Augustus grilling Hazel about her favorite book (which he'd just finished reading) while their friend, Isaac, another cancer patient who is about to loose his one good eye to cancer, rages in the background about his girlfriend breaking up with him right before his surgery.
Augustus lost his leg to cancer but he is in remission and things are looking good for him. Even still, he fears being forgotten, is obsessed with metaphor, and craves an extraordinary life. As a result, he goes above and beyond to orchestrate grand romantic gestures to sweep Hazel off her feet. This was actually a little obnoxious to me at times and seemed slightly put on, but that's who Augustus is; he acts according to what he thinks will make the biggest impact on the lives of those around him and ultimately, he is quite self-less and thoughtful. Hazel resists his efforts because she's terminal and she doesn't want to hurt him. But then that love thing happens, and, really, who can't resist acting on their feelings for someone as they tour the Anne Frank house? Their love was raw and ugly and beautiful, as love is. They saw one another in moments of terrible suffering but also shared great joy.
But their love isn't the whole story. There's a trip to Amsterdam for Hazel to interview the author of her favorite book, a story which ends abruptly with the death of the main character, a girl who also has cancer. Hazel needs to find out what happens to the girl's family and pet hamster, not realizing that her own peace of mind is tied up in this knowledge. If the characters in the story can live on after the girl's death, Hazel's family will be okay, too; she needs to know that their story won't end when hers does.
The teenagers in this novel have a wisdom and perspective that most people might never develop. The book encourages it's readers to live their lives today; that despite the fact that we might not make a impact on the world as a whole with our names in history books or plaques, we can touch the lives of the people around us.
First off, here's the trailer:
I really enjoyed this movie, which made me weep far more than the book did (which might actually be due to the fact that I listened to an audio version while I was working in the costume shop surrounded by my colleagues). After reading the book I re-watched the trailer and was thrilled to realize that much of the dialogue seemed to be lifted directly from the pages of the book. The movie as a whole was no different. One or two side stories had to be trimmed down or cut, but ultimately I walked out of the theater feeling like I had read the book for a second time, and like most second readings, I got more out of the story this time around. In a way, I'm a little baffled by the experience because this is the most true-to-the-book movie I've ever seen.
The casting was excellent! I cannot put enough emphasis on my opinion of this statement. My favorite casting choice was Mike Birbiglia, a comedian who makes frequent appearances on This American Life, as the pathetic and goofy support group counselor. Shailene Woodley, who is a huge fan of the book and personally wrote to John Green to encourage it's is so grounded and just perfect for Hazel. Ansel Elgort has this great goofy grin that is just so charming and perfectly Augustus Waters, but he also has the weight to pull off the heavier, more dramatic scenes. Actually seeing the contrast between his romantic side and when he has to confront their illnesses is quite moving in a way that, for me, didn't read as well in the book. And of course, the supporting characters were all very well developed by the script and actors in the short time we saw them.
If you're thinking about seeing the movie - go! And bring a box of tissues.
Tissues greeted the audience on their way into the theater. Not a good sign...