Waxing Poetic: We’re all romantics at heart

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Title: The Fault In Our Stars

Author: John Green

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Publishing Info: January 2012 by Dutton Books

Jukebox: First of all, the movie soundtrack for the book is spot-on. Second of all, I’m not going to use the soundtrack because where’s the fun in that? So here’s “Riot Van” by Arctic Monkeys. Every time I listen to it, I start imagining Hazel’s life after the book ends: some depression, some confidence, and some contentedness. Anyone who knows Arctic Monkeys knows their usual lively, garage-rock sound, so this laid-back, drifting song is rare. It’s a song that Hazel could be listening to while lying down in her back lawn:

Here we are again with one of those hyped-up books and one of those cult followings and one of those movies. I wonder if original movie ideas actually exist anymore (Planes 2? Really Pixar?). Putting all originality complaints aside, this book-to-movie adaptation is actually worth discussing.

The question I always ask first with what I’m beginning to call “hype books” is whether John Green and TFIOS really deserve all the publicity versus other books that weren’t lucky enough to get a movie, like Joan Bauer or Sarah Dessen‘s veritable treasure trove of realistic fiction. Of course I’m not going to say it deserves ALL the social media buzz, because when teenage girls and a hot male lead who waxes poetic get involved, everything always get way crazy (remember Team Edward and Jacob? It never stops). However, Green is quickly building a legacy for himself that deserves to be lauded alongside Joan Bauer and Sarah Dessen.

Plus, he’s a boss. Green didn’t get famous overnight after his first stab at writing. TFIOS may be his jackpot, but he’s well used to writing successful books: Paper Towns and Will Grayson, Will Grayson are both on my TBR list. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also a youtube giant who started VidCon.

With Green’s online presence in mind, it’s not surprising that TFIOS got so popular so quickly. And the story is attractively Nicholas-Sparks-like: Hazel, a 16-year old cancer patient meets 17-year old Augustus at cancer support group and they go to Amsterdam to meet a reclusive author and fall in love along the way. I won’t say what comes next, but c’mon guys, it’s a sad cancer story, you have to go into this novel with some expectation of being depressed. I certainly was pleasantly mopey for a couple days after finishing the book. And I caught myself imagining what Hazel’s life would be like after the book ended. It’s always a good sign when we want to continue a story in our own heads.

The difference between this book and the annoyingly sappy, repetitive Nicholas Sparks books is the hilarious dialogue. John Green puts so much of himself in all his characters, and in this case it works well. Green is a smart and quirky guy, therefore his characters have smart and quirky dialogue. The constant comments about the awkward, face-palm moments in life make the book flow naturally and feel realistic. However, the dialogue is also Green’s Achilles heel. There were many times when I was jolted out of the story because the dialogue had turned into a slew of pretentiously mature witticisms. That’s the danger zone: trying to be smart and funny while still making readers believe people actually talk like that in real life. The simple test is whether the dialogue can be read out loud in a convincing manner. I understand that Augustus’s outrageous one-liners are deliberately outrageous and he probably practices his speeches in front of a mirror, but there’s only so much Green can include of Augustus waxing poetic before it makes me cringe.

And while I don’t want to bash John Green too hard because I do think he’s created some quietly hilarious characters, I have to mention the first kiss scene while we’re on the subject of plausibility. I can deal with the improv kiss because emotions are just too overwhelming sometimes, but why must we have the important first physical connection in Anne Frank’s house (aka memorial of a 13-year old victim of the Holocaust)? With people clapping afterwards?? I’m sorry, but that’s really not how real life works. It would be fine if Green didn’t try so hard for the rest of the book to be a teenager’s realistic life, but the appeal of his book is that these kids are just like us. And while it’d be cool to have an audience applauding me after every major relationship checkpoint, that sadly hasn’t happened to me yet.

I only call out the occasional pretentious dialogue and that one ridiculous scene because it’s out of place in an otherwise perfectly flawed story. Hazel, quiet and sympathetic, and Augustus, wonderfully over-the-top, work well as the modern star-crossed couple. The few appearances of Hazel’s parents, who act as both supportive parents and best friends with their only daughter, were a close second to the main couple’s relationship. All in all, I thought the book was too short. John Green left me wanting more. Which is fitting, for a love story between terminal cancer patients and a moral about how fleeting life can be. I was stumped for a while on whether Green treated the effect of cancer on a teenager’s life too simply, but in the end I guess the book’s about struggling to have a life with cancer, not struggling to beat cancer while having a life.

Contrary to the book, I have no major complaints about the movie, a surprise to both you and me, I bet. I liked the characters of Hazel (played by Shailene Woodley) and Hazel’s parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) even more, and I appreciate Ansel Elgort’s ability to toss off Green’s pretentious dialogue as fake douchebaggery. It still doesn’t fly in the book, but it’s endearing in the movie. Gosh, Hazel and Gus have such great chemistry, considering that the actors played siblings in their previous movie, Divergent. There was a never a point in the movie where I lost focus or checked the time, thanks mostly to Shailene and Ansel’s impressive range of facial expressions. Plus, the voiceover was tastefully used to preserve Hazel’s first-person narrative. The movie did skip a lot of Gus’s health slowly deteriorating after the Amsterdam trip, but one has to make cuts somewhere in order to get the full immersive effect of other, more important scenes. It really was an incredibly faithful representation of the novel. So faithful that the first kiss scene was just as fairy-tale-like in the flesh as I imagined it to be.

It was a long, fulfilling movie. What felt like six hours was probably only two. It alleviated my worries about the book being too short to create enough depth in Hazel and Gus’s relationship and treating cancer too simply. It felt like a life had been lived, and that’s all we really ask for.

Rating: 8 – loved it: would definitely recommend, solid characters, writing, plot; might reread in a couple years

The movie soundtrack is worth a quick listen too. As individual songs, Birdy’s “Not About Angels”, M83’s  “Wait”, and STRFKR’s “While I’m Alive” stand out to me. The rest are a little to generically pop for my tastes. Regarding it as a whole, the collection of young artists delivers a fresh sound, representing the ups and downs of the story in all its teenage glory. Here’s the full soundtrack:

 

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