The Fault in Our Stars: great book; great film?

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars
Category: Reading

Unless you’ve been living under a very well concealed rock, you will have heard about the cult of John Green. The Fault in Our Stars chronicles the story of Hazel and Gus, two sharp-witted teenagers who meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. The number one bestseller has now been transferred to the big screen, but how does it compare?

Here are my thoughts on aspects of the story which the film handles particularly well. Warning: Spoilers!

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Hazel and Gus’s love story

Hazel and Augustus’s first encounter is a meet cute; they spot each other at a cancer support group and after a bit of awkward confusion over a cringe-worthy cigarette metaphor, their relationship gradually blossoms. The development is slow but I was happy to see this cautious approach remain in the film. However, one crucial omission was the story of Gus’s ex-girlfriend, Caroline, whose brain tumour was ‘of the variety that makes you not you before it makes you not alive.’ This discovery plays a major part in Hazel pushing Gus away initially, and omitting this lessened the emotional punch of her ‘grenade’ speech. That said, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort have a lovely natural chemistry and invest the characters with charm and warmth (although I would like to have seen more of Hazel’s dark humour). 

There's no avoiding the fact that Augustus Waters is a manic pixie dream boy

There's no avoiding the fact that Augustus Waters is a manic pixie dream boy. He’s pretentious and sounds like he’s swallowed a thesaurus but personally I don’t take major issue with this. Teens of his kind will exist, just as those with grunts for vocabulary do too. In the film, it’s obvious that Gus’s bravado is a front and Hazel and Isaac both recognise this, leading to a particularly emotional scene where Hazel forces Gus to confront the harsh realities of his life.

Streamlining the story

Two clear concerns drive the story on screen. When Gus first speaks at the support group, we see that he’s obsessed with leaving a mark on the world. By comparison, Hazel wants to minimise the casualities she’ll leave behind. The scene where Gus has a breakdown at a service station is an incredibly powerful moment and marks a clear emotional shift in Gus’s character towards vulnerability and frustration. Hazel’s relationship with her parents is also wonderfully developed, concluding in a moving scene where they all confront Hazel’s mortality and the life they will live without her.

The Fault in Our Stars poster
I’m not crying, it’s just been raining on my face…

Some negative reviews have focussed on the film’s emotional manipulation, but I felt the emotional moments were handled in the refreshingly honest tone of the book. I do wish, however, that the film had touched more on legacy. In the book, Hazel reads a stream of impersonal messages of condolence for Gus, reflecting that: ‘It’s almost as if the way you imagine my dead self says more about you than it says about either the person I was or whatever I am now.’ This moment strips away any joy of ‘cancer perks’ and highlights just how isolated an illness can make you feel.

Meeting Peter Van Houten

The Peter Van Houten subplot is handled brilliantly in the film. When reading, I found the endless philosophical references frustrating and distracting from the issue at heart. Truthfully, the references felt more like interjections from John Green than the character. On screen, Gus and Hazel’s ill-fated trip to meet him provided a vivid insight into his eccentricities and the broken man he has become.

Representing Disability

The more we can discuss and approach the physical and emotional realities of illness and disability, the better

The film achieves a very positive tone of disability representation, treating this as an aspect and not the sum of characters’ lives. It was also interesting to see the issue approached with a sense of humour, with a number of characters making jokes at their own expense or calling out others who do. The representation of cancer will always be subject to debate, but to get caught up in fairly representing all experiences is not only impossible, but also slightly missing the point. The more we can discuss and approach the physical and emotional realities of illness and disability, the better.

Ultimately, The Fault in Our Stars is a faithful and enjoyable adaptation. The film is beautifully shot and the engaging, moving performances should be highly praised. The final scene - Hazel lying down with Gus’s eulogy clutched to her chest- is particularly powerful note to end on and provides a hopeful yet realistic nod to the richness of the days Hazel has left.  

How did you rate The Fault in Our Stars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

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