“The Fault in Our Stars” Movie Review

Somewhere along the winding road of my early twenties, I found a YouTube channel called vlogbrothers. It’s description: “Raising nerdy to the power of awesome.” Using vlogbrothers, two exceptionally nerdy brothers, Hank and John, post nerdy selfie video rants on topics ranging from “Why are American Health Care Costs So High?” to the truth behind the allegedly and hilariously badass Honey Badgers. They’re funny and fast-paced. Picture an American version of John Oliver just sitting in his library ranting instead of from a news studio.

The same pair of brothers also collaborated on crashcourse, another YouTube channel that features comprehensive videos set up as multimedia lessons in Chemistry, World History, Biology, Ecology, and everyone’s favorite: Literature. John himself has a wonderful series of lessons on To Kill A Mockingbird that I highly recommend. Raising awesome to the power of awesome.

Almost entirely unrelated: sometime within a couple months of my discovery of vlogbrothers — way back when people actually still used AIM — a friend of mine had a quote in their profile that caught my eye:

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

Woooow. What could better possibly capture what it feels like to be stuck in a bout of unrequited love? Come to find out, the quote is from a book written by John Green called Looking for Alaska. The above quote alone was enough for me to buy the book. Sure enough, it was a tragic tale, and I shed some tears over the few days it took to read Looking for Alaska. I find it wonderful that the tragedy in these kinds of stories have the capacity to renew rather than demolish the human spirit. That, first and foremost, is what make them so important.

Could you possibly believe that it took me half a year to realize that John of vlogbrothers and John Green who wrote Looking for Alaska were the SAME PERSON!? Who knew YouTube sensations could also be bestselling authors? It’s wonderful when we one day realize that we have the same person to blame for several seemingly disparate things that we love (i.e., for those of you who love Doctor Who and Sherlock, I hope you realize their connection).

Before this post becomes exclusively dedicated to my man crush on John Green, I’ll shift gears after saying that John Green is a man’s man for nerdy men, plain and simple.

Without any further of that long-winded adieu, here is a movie review of the adaptation to John’s latest book: The Fault in Our Stars.

Let’s begin with a bombshell quote from the book:

A Fault In Our Stars

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” – Hazel Grace Lancaster

Released in 2012, The Fault in Our Stars features Hazel Grace Lancaster as our narrator. You may have noticed in social media over the past week the story of Esther Earl, a young girl who succumbed after a four-year battle with cancer shortly after her 16th birthday. John Green loosely based the character of Hazel after Esther.

Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a seventeen-year-old suffering from thyroid and lung cancer. She must always be hooked up to an oxygen tank to breathe properly and is still very sick. She is a self-proclaimed bomb that will inevitably go off, devastating everyone in her wake. Her mild depression is less a side-effect of cancer and more the logical preamble to dying. Her hovering mother forces her to go to a local support group where she eventually meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a former high school basketball star who lost his leg to bone cancer. Though Hazel does her best to push him away, much like the viewer, she is drawn to his impossible and indomitable charm.

On face value, you could stop there and say that’s all the movie is. These two star-crossed and cancer-stricken young lovers fall for one another despite their fears of death and oblivion. Though the ultimate outcome might be considered predictable (or just inevitable), The Fault in Our Stars is not just a cancer story trying to make you weep. This is a nuanced love story, constrained by that profound problem and the universal equalizer we all must face: death. Although cancer is the motif that is present throughout the whole movie, and largely something of a gimmick, the depth that both Elgort and Woodley bring to the two characters is positively wonderful. If you strip away the cancer, this isn’t just a mundane meet-cute. Each character has a history and a psychology that arcs across the several months over which the movie takes place. You could stop right there and say it’s a wonderful movie that you should see immediately, but I won’t stop at that, because some infinities are bigger than other infinities.

John Green (left) with the two stars of the film, Elgort and Woodley.

John Green (left) with the two stars of the film, Elgort and Woodley.

Shailene Woodley has quickly become one of Hollywood’s “It Girls” seemingly overnight. With starring roles in Divergent and now The Fault in Our Stars, this former child actor is quickly developing into a woman that will surely be sought after for roles in years to come. In a Vulture.com article on Woodley and her BFF Brie Larson, the two share how they met on the set of The Spectacular Now and through a sisterly bond have vowed to conquer — and fix — Hollywood’s treatment and portrayal of women. I have no doubt that Woodley will be a dominating force moving forward as she delivers strong performances from a female lead. And judging from Larson’s Short Term 12 (now available on Netflix), these two wonderful actresses are going to have a busy couple years ahead of them.

New-York-Magazine

Woodley is the perfect casting for Hazel, who is a bright young lady at once both kind and hopeful but also frustrated and jaded. She has no illusions about a miraculous recovery and is largely complacent with her books and school and mundanely surviving day to day. Despite her best efforts to ignore her budding affection for Augustus’ goofy charm, she inevitably cannot help herself but let him in. Her hesitation yields a natural sense of delayed visual satisfaction to the viewer, as we don’t get to see the two of them truly come together until we are deep into the movie.

One of the trickier parts to the movie is that Augustus in many ways just represents the counterpoint archetype to the manic pixie dream girl. If you’ve got a love story with a surly female lead, then she typically comes with an obnoxiously silly and kindhearted gent. It’s a staple of the female narrator YA genre. But it’s also indicative of a much larger problem.

You see, a majority of romcoms out there center on one single character, and though there is great value placed upon their love interest, that person ultimately amounts to little more than an accessory. This is why romcoms get such a bad rep in the movie game, because in their simplest and laziest form, they barely even scratch the surface of superficial wish fulfillment and are downright psychologically dangerous.

Look at something like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s a movie written by women, for women, about women, with Kate Hudson as the female lead. Hudson’s character has a few vapid struggles that have everything to do with her using a man for the sake of a career. Her mild character arc amounts to her gaining a smidge of dignity and morality, and that’s about it. Despite her manipulation of the absolutely perfect character that Matthew McConaughey plays, their True Love persists and McConaughey stays perfect because, well, he never really changes. This is a movie about a frustrated woman finding the perfect man, a premise that clashes with everything we naturally come to know about how real-life works.

Though Augustus Waters starts out as the unbelievably too-cool-for-school character that could devolve the story into a similar romcommy mess, his personality expands beyond horrid stereotypes rather quickly. The trauma of his and Hazel’s circumstance breaks down Gus’ barriers. We are a able to see what really makes him tick. This transforms him from that “perfect man” character into a fully realized human being whose fears are easier to comprehend than oblivion and whose hopes are universally relatable. Gus might be an exceedingly awkward and weird person, but he does it all with such aplomb that we love him for it. It would have been very easy for an actor to botch the character of Augustus Waters, to completely fail at straddling that line between the obnoxious and the genuine. Gus has to be a little crazy and over-the-top, but he absolutely has to be genuine while doing it. Ansel Elgort pulled that off wonderfully.

The novel is transplanted from book page to screenplay sometimes beat for beat, with the typical effective fat-trimming throughout. What the success of the adaptation ultimately rested upon was the casting, and Woodley and Elgort did an exceptional job as Hazel and Augustus. Elgort and Woodley have great chemistry and are all too cute on-screen together. The story of Augustus Waters and Hazel Lancaster ultimately reminds us that the love we deserve and receive is hardly ever the one that we want or expect. And that is okay. In fact, that is the absolute best thing.

Hazel_and_Augustus

Grappling with the prospect of infinity seems pretty typical of YA novels. In Perks of Being a Wallflower, the story hinged on that one line: ”In that moment, we felt infinite.” Infinity is everywhere. I think it has a lot to do with trying to simplify profound human concepts to make them digestible to a younger audience, but I’m no expert. That idea that we are both a mere mite in the infinitude of the cosmos and an infinity unto ourselves is an important one. The scope of the universe humbles us, but the power of our consciousness makes each of us the most important person in human history. We are at once everything and nothing.

What do we do to make sense out of all that chaos? We Love.

Even a small amount of time spent loving is worth more than ten lifetimes of loneliness. The Fault in Our Stars shows us that the depth our lives is so much more important than the length.

I’ll leave you on a final note about the title of the book. The “fault in our stars” alludes to a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Though this line is said by someone Dante considers the second worst person in human history as he speaks to the third worst person, the quote itself is still a profoundly accurate assessment of human life. Though we often blame luck, chance, or fate for so much of our misfortune, it is important to realize that we cause many of our own problems. Should we seek to blame someone for those problems we need look no further than our own bathroom mirror.

But what if you and your beloved are born into lives defined by your struggles with cancer? Then, dear reader, the fault lies not in yourself, but in your stars. Sometimes fate can deal you a really rough hand, but it is within your power to make the best of your life. No matter how bad things might be, you can always find things to be thankful for and you can always find love if you open yourself up to it.

Read it. See it. Love it.

Read it. See it. Love it.

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