Hazel Grace Lancaster: I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep – slowly, and then all at once.
John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a remarkably unexpected piece of fiction, genuinely heartbreaking but yet strangely life affirming at the same time. Josh Boone’s adaptation of the same name is a wonderfully loyal tribute, another triumph penned by (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and THE SPECTACULAR NOW writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, that captures the essence of Green’s unassuming genius and brings it to life in a way I didn’t imagine was possible. On the page, both the joy and the pain the story inspires can certainly be felt by the reader but on screen, that same joy is even more infectious and that same pain is made palpably real. And any fan of the source material knows, some pain just demands to be felt. When I first met Hazel Grace Lancaster in Green’s book, I was instantly taken with her. On the page, she is a refreshing creation, a 17-year-old girl with faulty lungs, who is dying slowly after having already had a near death experience in her fight with cancer. Every breath she takes is as big as her broken lungs will allow and her voice leaps off the page as if she was in the room with you and speaking directly to you. When I met Hazel Grace on screen, played by the lovely, talented, and terribly underrated, Shailene Woodley, and I saw how she embodied both strength and delicacy simultaneously, I fell in love all over again. This is a character who doesn’t sugarcoat anything but who still apologizes to you for how difficult the story she’s about to tell really is. You know what she is about to share isn’t going to be easy, but at least you know that it will be true and that she will be mindful of you when she tells it.
When I first met Augustus “Gus” Waters, I was as smitten as anyone would be with his abundant confidence and charm and what I assumed to be clean-cut, all-American boy good looks. I am not ashamed to say, I wanted to be Hazel Grace in that moment when he doesn’t take his eyes off of her during their cancer support group (minus the cancer, of course.) When I met Augustus on screen, I instantly reverted back to being a teenage girl (which is interesting because I am a 37-year-old man), and swooned over relative newcomer, Ansel Elgort. As Augustus, he is just as witty, and just as dorky, as he needs to be in order to be convincing. Hazel is a heavily guarded individual and if he didn’t commit fully to being completely and immediately mesmerized by her, their love would never get to where it needed to be. He sees her and refuses to look away when she shows how unaccustomed she is to being seen. Like the book, it feels like a privilege to spend time with Hazel and Augustus on film as well. Perhaps this is because they truly understand how precious the time they spend together is. When they meet each other, Hazel is terminal, but is responding to an experimental treatment that could keep her alive for years to come still. Augustus is cancer free but lost his right leg in the process of getting there. Every experience she has is had with the knowledge that her disease will kill her one of these days, so she’s developed a fairly thick skin in order to survive the days she has left. Her acerbic, unwaveringly frank view of the world around her has made it difficult for her to see love when it is standing right in front of her. When you can’t help but smile when you hear a particular boy say your name though, you can only deny it for so long.
Love is surprising by nature and this love takes the two people swept up in it on a number of adventures neither even dreamed of and to levels of intimacy neither has ever known. Their love is a young love, but this does not make it any less meaningful, nor does this mean it has any less to teach us. Many of us out there, some of us a great deal older than Hazel and Augustus, most of us never having had to go through the kinds of things they have gone through, have adopted similar aires of cynicism and apathy in order to navigate the lofty terrain that is being alone in the world today. When love catches these two young people off guard, it is a welcome, yet unnerving reminder that it can happen for any of us, at any time, and that whatever walls we built around us can come tumbling down far faster than we put them up to begin with. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is not without any fault of its own.It is not necessarily visually dynamic and it can be relentless at times, but the same can be said of life itself. And while Boone doesn’t show any distinct voice as a director here, he doesn’t really need to. His film is clearly filled with people who care a great deal about the story they’re telling. That warmth can be felt when watching it and it is greatly appreciated by this admirer. Okay. Okay.