The Fault in Our Stars: can John Green save teen romance?

the fault in our stars 1

Here’s something many of you loyal readers have probably already figured out about me: I don’t do romance movies. Like, almost ever. Sure, there are a few rom-com exceptions in there, and once in a great, great while a drama with a romantic focus may pop up, but for the most part, naw, bro. Give me a good horror, comedy, sci-fi, or fantasy flick over romance any day. But John Green fever has swept the nation, and everyone under the sun has read/is reading his breakout novel, The Fault in Our Stars—a romantic drama about a couple of teens in a cancer support group. It’s received so much praise that I decided to give it a go at the theater.

While I did enjoy the film, it kind of made me feel completely heartless. Why? Because I think everyone in that damn theater was crying except me. Every time something remotely emotional happened, the sniffles were like surround sound. But me? Not a single tear. I just don’t cry during movies. However, in this case I wonder if that was at least partly due to the fact that I haven’t read the book. Surely getting inside the main character’s head prior to seeing the film would elicit a more emotional response, but is it required reading to fully appreciate the film? I don’t know if I have the answer to that, but let’s talk about the good and the bad, shall we?

Synopsis: “Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.” Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.

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The Good: This film is definitely anchored by several strong performances. Honestly, I wasn’t initially sure how I was going to feel about Shailene Woodley as main protagonist Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient. But Woodley delivers. As the film went on, I found myself growing more and more attached to her, and for good reason—Hazel is funny, smart, caring, and strong-willed. She has a life and a history outside of her romantic relationship, and that’s refreshing after being subjected to teen characters like Twilight’s horrifyingly terrible Bella Swan, whose life is so nonexistent beyond her boyfriend that it’s painful. Hazel is the kind of role model teen girls need. Also, random, but Woodley is an excellent crier (you’ll see). And Hazel’s romantic interest, Gus, is played with equal finesse by newcomer Ansel Elgort, whom I recently realized won my favor as Tommy in last year’s Carrie reboot. Elgort portrays Gus with undeniable charm and warmth, pulling the audience in right along with Hazel. The two actors have great chemistry, making the relationship between their characters very believable. Also, Laura Dern (whose badassery my sister and I discuss here) is in this movie! Who knew? She, too, is fantastic as Hazel’s mother, Frannie, who is just too sweet and adorable for words. Other than the performances, I appreciated the fact that the film is dramatic without being too terribly sappy, and there’s plenty of humor sprinkled throughout, too. The dialogue is generally good, and I think the bubbles that pop up when Hazel and Gus are texting are pretty cute. From what I understand, the film stays true to the book, so if you liked the book, odds are you’ll be happy with this.

Favorite scene: Gus’s friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) has a bit of a meltdown, and a lot of things get annihilated in the process. I laughed.

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The Bad: Okay, so here’s a pet peeve that I find in a lot of young adult literature: the names of the main characters are kinda silly. Seriously, who the heck names their child “Augustus” nowadays? It’s fairly pretentious—and maybe it’s meant to be, since Gus himself is somewhat pretentious, but still. “Hazel Grace” bothered me a bit, too, though to a lesser degree. But hey, that’s mostly me being ticked off at YA authors who try to make their character sooooo hip. Can’t exactly blame the film for that. It’s mostly little things that bothered me here and there in the film, like the very cliché, love-at-first-sight moment that Hazel and Gus have. And the fact the Gus is waaaay too perfect for an 18-year-old boy. I remember high school, and, I’m sorry, but those boys do not exist. That, or Gus is the only one that exists. Character wise, here’s my biggest problem: Hazel’s author idol, Van Houten. He’s played very well by Willem Dafoe, but c’mon…Van Houten is a huge cliché. I really, really wish I could delve into that without ruining an important plot point. I’ll just say this: all those stereotypes you expect from writers? Van Houten hits just about every one of them. It annoys me that John Green, a bestselling author, would make a writer character like this. But that’s the creative writing major in me raging. I guess my only other qualm is that I saw the ending coming from a mile away. And, of course, there’s still the whole question of whether or not there’s a slight disconnect if you haven’t read the book, but I’m still not sure about that. Maybe I’m just cold…

Least favorite scene: Hazel and Gus have a pretty awkward first kiss. I learned that the moment is pretty much exactly as it happens in the book, but…it just doesn’t seem real. Or appropriate, given the setting, but that’s another can of worms.

To Sum It Up: As far as teen romance goes, this is definitely one of the better options. Hazel and Gus are both strong, interesting characters, and the presence of cancer elevates the story into something more. It’s a story about grappling with mortality—and at a very young age to boot. I may not have cried during this movie, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by the emotional journey. Highly recommended for those who have read the book. If you’re on the fence about going to see it, I say give it a shot.

My Grade: B+

61 thoughts on “The Fault in Our Stars: can John Green save teen romance?

  1. Great review. I love the book so much so I’m looking forward to this. But I just hope it’s not as corny as the trailers look. If you get a chance I would give the book a try.

    • Thanks, Lauren! I hope you like it! Yeah I know I should probably read the book…but I’m about 1/3 of the way into the first Game of Thrones book, so it might be a while. Hahaha.

  2. It didn’t work for me. And even though I was sort of expecting that, I wish it didn’t happen because the cast here is good, it’s just that it feels like the material they were given was so one-note. Good review.

  3. I didn’t cry either, so don’t worry, you aren’t alone in that case! Also, I agree with you 100% when you state that 18-year old guys like Gus don’t exist, nor can any girl hope to find anyone like that within that age bracket! I liked Hazel though, she was pretty legitimate!

    • Yaaayyy I’m not actually heartless! Hahaha. Yeah I thought Hazel’s character was great. I especially liked how she wasn’t afraid to call Gus out sometimes. Made the pretentiousness a little less pretentious. Lol.

  4. Great review! So this is the movie that whooped Tom Cruise at the box office eh? 🙂 I’ve heard great things about Shailene Woodley but I haven’t caught any of her movies so far. I seldom watch romance movies either. 🙂

    • Thanks, Natasha! I went with a friend who had read the book, and from what she tells me it is a very faithful adaptation. She was happy with it. Hope you enjoy, too! 🙂

  5. Great review lady! I am seriously looking forward to this movie! I really liked the book. I cannot foresee myself crying, though (my other half says I am very cold when it comes to movies and getting all teared up and what not), so we will see. I might be able to understand that. I want to see if Dafoe delivered the Van Houten of the book, then we can talk about this.

    • Very curious to see what you think! I thought Dafoe was good, but I just didn’t think the character was very believable. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t cry during movies! Lol.

      • No, it makes me feel more human knowing I am not a robot. Thank goodness! 😛 Hmmm, I should be going this weekend (when they finally release it), so soon you will know!

  6. I’m yet to see the film, but I did read half of the book. It was meh, okay. I do want to see the film but I probably won’t cry either. I’ve never really been moved by the whole ‘dying person’ thing. I probably will enjoy it, but like you, I won’t be ‘omg that is the best thing ever’ moved to tears. Great review 🙂 I like that you added your favourite/least favourite bits – it made it more personal 🙂

    • Thanks so much! Yeah, I always like to do the favorite/least favorite parts, though sometimes it’s hard to pick. Lol. Wow, I think you’re the first person I’ve talked to who didn’t love the book! Maybe you’ll like the film better? Hope so! 🙂

      • Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy what I read of the book, but I’ve read a few of John Green’s book that I don’t necessarily prefer, but they’re less depressing, like An Abundance of Katherine’s and Paper Towns. I’ll reread the book and finish it and then I’ll watch the film after and hopefully I’ll like it more 🙂

  7. I have plans to go see this for sure. By all the hype surrounding it, it’s a dive from the conventional, so I’m pumped to experience that. But yes, I am certainly going to prepare to sit through a lot of cliches. These kinds of movies never can avoid them. But if it’s as well-acted as everyone says it is, I think I’ll be able to enjoy this. If. . .this is a movie you enjoy. . .? Lol.

    Good review Cara!

    • Hahaha yeah maybe “enjoy” isn’t quite the right word. I do think this one was done pretty well though, so I bet you’ll be able to…appreciate it? Maybe that’s the better way to put it. Thanks, Tom! 🙂

  8. Great review Cara, I literally just LOL at your statement on weird young adult names in books. Yes they are always weird and trying to be cool. How did you not cry?! Miguel has been influencing you.

    • RIGHT? Thank you! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that about the names! And I really just don’t cry during movies–even since before Miguel I’ve been that way. The one exception I can think of is late one night when I watched the last half of Marley & Me…F#%! THAT S*#%. I cried like a baby.

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    • Eric, the best scene of the movie was when Gus and Hazel first met. It goes like this:

      After the support group is released Hazel approaches a window and stares outside. And then Gus approaches and extends his hand. She shakes his hand but then Gus releases a small piece of paper into her palm and walks away. A puzzled Hazel opens the note and it reads:


      The whole theater went “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww” and started crying.

        • Never! That note was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. Only creepy for the recipient, but entertaining and amusing for everyone else. LOL.

          I can only imagine how this guy is. I need to write a new screenplay called “I thank ur cute” based on all the notes he hands to women when he goes out. I wonder what the other notes say!? lol.

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  11. Good review, Cara. Is Van Houten a cliche? Hmmmm. Maybe a little, but what matters more to me is whether or not he’s developed well enough for his persona to make sense. And, here, I think it is. He is emotionally broken and a raging, literally, alcoholic. Do we know enough to understand why? I think we do. So he didn’t bother me – in the book or the movie.

    As to whether or not the film loses some of the book’s pay off … It does. Some of it. Isaac’s scenes are more meaningful in the book, because there are more of them. And knowing the ending in advance matters less, both because it is better foreshadowed and then built to more slowly. The event itself, in the book, doesn’t make any difference.

    • Sounds like you were pretty happy with this one, huh? Most fans of the book seem to be. Don’t get me wrong–I still really liked it. But yeah, Van Houten bothered me. Dafoe performed well and everything, but the bitter alcoholic writer character is, I think, too easy. Maybe if I’d read the book I would find him more necessary and less…one dimensional? Don’t know if that’s the word I’m looking for or not. Though I had my issues here and there, I thought the film was well done. I definitely don’t regret seeing it.

      • Fair enough on Van Houten. I try to take each occurrence of a given concept individually. Which means I’m not judging Van Houten in comparison to other such writer characters; I’m judging him on his own merits.

        And I think he makes sense on his own terms.

        But if you’re judging him in reference to other works, I can see why you’d say he borders on cliche.

        (Oh. And yeah. Mostly, I was happy with this flick – it’s quite good.)

  12. just saw the movie on Thus and spent today reading the book.

    Cant say which I liked better. each had elements done slightly better so they sorta cancel each other out.

    Really enjoyed both tho.

    This movie ranks with Shawshank as one of the most faithful adaptations of a book to screen.

    Of course there aren’t many 18 year old like Gus, but that’s where suspension of disbelief come in and in their world it worked. Even he says that most teens wouln’t like him because of his *spoiler*

    Besides, in order to take place in Indianapolis, they obviously had to take quite a bit of poetic license 🙂

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  15. I liked this one a lot. It’s up there at the top of my list for 2014.

    And I was going to say that Woodley’s character is simply named “Hazel” I believe. Grace is her middle name and Gus just calls her “Hazel Grace”. If I’m not mistaken. But honestly, I don’t like the name Hazel for a young girl; it doesn’t fit well to me. The name Augustus didn’t bother me, though.

    • I know it’s just what Gus calls her…but it still bugs me. Augustus, too. It’s like old people names–like John Green is trying too hard to be all hip and retro. Lol. It’s a little thing, but when YA authors do stuff like that, it just drives me crazy.

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