Adaptations & Remakes is an ongoing feature where I (or in this case, my friend Mike) take a movie or a book and compare it to its remake and/or adaptation. Each post follows the same basic format:
- General plot overview/source material
- Original movie/first adaptation
- How I would adapt and/or remake it.
- How they adapted/remade it
And don’t forget, you can follow around the internet with the links below.
Source Material: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
There’s a reason John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars has sold 10.7 million copies and has spent 78 weeks on the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list since its 2012 release. It’s central protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster, speaks a language millions of teenage girls understand. She’s melancholic, snarky, and witty while also being insightful and sweet. It’s impossible not to compare her to those other teen fiction female protagonists whose stories also earned movie deals, namely Bella Swan from Twilight, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and Trice Prior from Divergent (interestingly, played by Shailene Woodley who will play Hazel in Fault.) Hazel is more compelling than all of them. Sure it helps that her story isn’t fantasy, but again, diction in Fault is spot on.
And it has to be. Hazel’s story isn’t very adventurous, fantastical or happy for that matter. She’s a cancer patient who must carry around oxygen to keep the brown fluid in her lungs from suffocating her. Her parents’ entire lives revolve around her care, and she’s fully aware of the imposition despite her parents’ insistence that she is not one. They only want her to her happy, which is why they send her to group-therapy sessions for teens living with cancer. Here Hazel meets the incredibly beautiful and impossibly charming amputee Augustus Waters.
He loves video games and metaphor, and she loves her favorite book An Imperial Affliction and introspection.
I’ll skip plot details in lieu of theme. During their first meeting at group-therapy, Augustus or Gus is asked what he’s afraid of. “Oblivion,” he says. Green asks a lot about oblivion. What does living mean? What Green does well is balance cute-as-a-button teen romance with real adult questions about life. The romance is expertly written, and the type of dialogue that teen girls wish they could come up with on their own. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Dawson’s Creek or Clueless but certainly less whiney and less valley, respectively. More than once I asked if teens actually talk like that. Believe it or not, however, teens love to be challenged – if we’d only give them the opportunity. Green never dumbs his work down, and it’s refreshing. Surprisingly, it’s the latter types of discussions -the adult type ones- that make the reader swoon. Reviewers will warn not to read the book without a box of tissues. I’d recommend reading it with a highlighter. You could learn a lot about living from two teenagers fighting cancer.
How I’d Adapt It
As far as the character of Hazel is concerned, as long as the dialogue is handled carefully (and it should be, John Green was very hands on during the film making process) she could be played by any girl with reasonable talent. The key for a movie adaptation is casting the perfect Gus. His personality walks a delicate line between confident and scared, and an actor who could’t handle the duality of that could really pull the movie down. I would place prime importance on the character of Gus. Hazel falls in love with him for a number of reasons, and considers is amputated leg a non-issue. A few of the audience members might not be so accepting, so it’s crucial that Gus’s raw confidence soars. We must fall in love with him.
The book’s narrative is pretty tight, so I’d hope to be able to keep all of the story aspects intact. Gus and Hazel have a third friend, Isaac, a blind boy they know from group therapy. He’s a strong emotional center between the two main characters and I’d be sure to spend ample amount of time with him.
A heavy plot point I neglected to mention in the review is Hazel and Gus’s quest to contact Peter Van Houten, the author of An Imperial Affliction for some kind of conclusion to the end of the story. Again, I won’t reveal plot details, but it’s this character and the main characters’ time with him that help the audience also ask the questions about life that Hazel and Gus are asking. I’d make Van Houten a real crotchety old coot.
Finally, with any movie about teens for teens, music should play a big part. Interestingly, Hazel and Gus don’t spend much time talking about music, but a killer soundtrack is crucial. I’d try remember that.
From what I’ve seen so far, I think director Josh Boone has done a good job of acknowledging what’s important. His best decision, and something I would have done, was to keep John Green involved in the process. Here’s hoping it pays off.
How They Adapted It: Fault Reviewed
You’ll certainly read several reviews about the movie that say something to the effect of “this is the type of movie that Hazel and Gus would hate or make fun of.” I disagree wholeheartedly. In fact, I think Hazel’s story does her favorite book one better by giving us an ending. And my oh my what a weepy ending it is, and the movie is proud of it.
There are times where the movie seems carefully crafted to make you cry. It works, but sometimes the scenes come across as heavy handed, and I imagine those are the scenes reviewers are thinking of when they imagine what Hazel would think about the movie. These are small complaints though, the rest of the movie is quite well made.
Shailene Woodley as Hazel is, without surprise, fantastic. She handles John Green’s oft-too-clever dialogue with ease, and even softens some of the “would a teen really say that” harshness. She’s believable, and successfully handles what had to be her most difficult scenes. One in particular finds her climbing multiple sets of steep stairs in the Anne Frank house. Woodley’s struggles make the scene even more gripping than the book.
Of course, the real test of the movie was for Ansel Elgort as Gus. Unfortunately my hopes for him might have been set a bit too high. He doesn’t always handle Green’s dialogue with the same forethought or insight that Woodley seems to have. Make no mistake however, he is a magnetic presence on screen. Often times it doesn’t even matter what he’s saying, because he reads lines with a wink and a smile. It’s like Elgort knows that teens don’t really speak as eloquently as his Gus or Hazel. It’s both a hindrance to the character, and endearing to the actor. He never stole scenes, but at the same time I could never focus on anything else when he was on screen. I imagine young women will feel the same.
The rest of the characters are incredibly well cast. It was fun to see Laura Dern as Hazel’s mother and remember that she still makes movies and makes them well. In a movie with as many sad scenes as Fault, you’ve got to be able to cry, and she has one or two great cries in the movie.
Willem DaFoe as Peter Van Houten was as strange as the scene itself. He’s creepy, and I suppose that’s what director Josh Boone was going for, but he isn’t really what I imagined.
The Fault in Our Stars, at least in movie form, is probably the greatest love story of a generation. I dunno, ask a teenager. It’s incredibly cute, insightful enough and devastating as all get-out. I even loved the gradual nature of the star-crossed lovers relationship. It was reminiscent of my own teen years. However, the movie is for a specific audience, and I imagine anyone outside of the movie’s demographic will have a hard time falling as deeply in love with the movie as the characters do for each other. The story is fantastically written, but the movie has an agenda and at times it’s off-putting. Still, I’d recommend the movie. It’s absolutely more than just…okay. Okay?
For another Obsessive review of The Fault in Our Stars, check out my friend Sam’s review of the book on Obsessive Book Nerd!
Matt (The Obsessive Viewer)]