The Fault in our Stars: Book vs Film

Film or TV? - Film
Famous or Obscure? - Famous
Better on Page/Screen?  - It's close, but page.

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is a novel that has been hyped by the fans, sniffed at by the critics and alienated a good percentage of its potential readership due to its subject matter. This is a book about teenagers with cancer after all, not exactly cheery stuff. Strangely however, I really enjoyed it. Now I'm the last person to voluntarily seek out a 'misery book' - after A Child Called It and Life is Good (which I gave up on after two chapters of abject depression) I have steered well clear of the genre. But the good thing about Fault in our Stars is that it isn't all doom and gloom. I cried, as I was told I would, but I laughed too.

The Fault in our Stars is the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill teenager whose life of hospital visits and trashy t.v marathons (although America's Next Top Model is quality if you ask me) takes a turn for the better when she meets the charismatic Augustus Waters at a cancer support group. It sounds cheesy but there is actually something endearingly straightforward (not realistic, but cute) about the way their relationship develops. There are no clichéd misunderstandings or bad first impressions to keep them apart in the early stages. Although the way they talk is pretentious, they act a bit more like actual teenagers.

The language of Fault in our Stars has been criticised as an unrealistic interpretation of the way teenagers talk and this is one critique that I have to agree with. Green has said that the critics are merely underestimating teenage intelligence, but I've been a teenager more recently than he has and I know I never met anyone who talked like that. There's a difference between being intelligent and talking like you are - but I suppose dying might make you more philosophical.
Despite sounding like they swallowed a dictionary, our protagonists are, however, warm and likeable - as are the secondary characters such as Isaac, Hazel's parents and Lidewij (Peter Van Houten's assistant). Hazel and Gus are cancer sufferers but that's not all they are. Their lives are changed by the disease but they still think about other things - friends, books, each other. Other than the love story the main sub-plot even revolves around Hazel's favourite author, and her desire to discover what happens at the end of his only book 'An Imperial Affliction'.

The characters of The Fault in our Stars are vividly brought to life in the film adaptation, most noticeably by Shailene Woodley (Hazel) Ansel Elgort (Gus) and Willem Dafoe (author Peter Van Houten). This is the kind of film that would be terrible if badly acted, but Woodley is a likeable screen presence and her performance is spot on. Gus, I had problems with at first. I hate to say that he's not good-looking enough but... he's not good-looking enough. Luckily he is also a decent actor, and as the film progresses you almost begin to believe that he's attractive enough to pull off that stupid cigarette metaphor. The language  jars less in the film than its novel counterpart, and again this is partly due to the believability of the acting, specifically Hazel's. Gus's lines can sometimes be cringe-inducing, but Woodley makes even the 'I'm a grenade' speech seem plausible.  

As a whole, the film stuck closely to the novel - the only notable exclusion being the back-story involving Gus's previous girlfriend, another cancer sufferer. All the memorable scenes of the book were recreated almost perfectly - I teared up during the dinner and champagne in Amsterdam, during the meeting with Van Houten, and at the horrendous gas station scene - although that one, though flawlessly acted, didn't have quite the same impact as it did in the book. Maybe because I knew what was coming? 

The Peter Van Houten storyline is an interesting one, and one of the aspects that makes The Fault in our Stars a bit different. If I'm honest, I think there has to be some sort of metaphor going on there that I've missed, but the scenes with the author, both in book and film, are disconcerting and unpredictable -  they gave me the sense that this character is doing just what he wants, not what the plot demands him to.  Dafoe brought a sense of stillness and threat into his portrayal of Van Houten - different to the shouty-old-man of my imagination, but still massively affecting. I decided he was well cast.

The Fault in our Stars has been called unoriginal and manipulative. It has been accused both of  exploiting a sensitive theme for the sake of tears, and of sugar-coating terminal illness. I disagree on both counts. John Green has worked with teenage cancer sufferers, and his book was meant as a representation of those he knew, that would show them as people in their own right not just as kids with cancer. In that I think he was successful. Before anything else, Fault in our Stars is a teenage love story - clichéd and sentimental by definition, with an implausibly perfect male love interest. But there are elements of realism here that you might not expect. I especially liked the way the parents are always on the scene - naturally if your child's dying you want them to be with you a lot of the time, not always with the new love that they met a matter of weeks ago.

When it comes to the sugar-coating, I did feel that the film, unlike the book, failed to show the full reality of Hazel's illness. So she had her oxygen to carry around and was sometimes out of breath, but she never really looked unhealthy. I understand that in the book we can hear her thoughts, we know when she's in pain, we know everything that she's been though, and her condition is clearly debilitating. In the film this isn't as obvious, cue the accusations of a rose-tinted view of the terminally ill. However, I don't agree that the characters appear to be 'too happy' - if you've been ill for that long maybe you don't have to be sad all of the time. The characters get on with what's left of their lives, and it's inspiring.

All in all, The Fault in our Stars surprised me. I read it because my sister made me, but I enjoyed it because it was good. The film was perhaps a bit slow throughout the first hour, but the slow-building meant more of an emotional impact towards the end. Coming from a girl whose been known to cry at Piglet's Big Movie and the odd episode of Made in Chelsea my tears aren't any kind of recommendation, but our cinema was less than a quarter full, and I've never heard more sniffling in my life. I'd recommend. Both book and film are good, but the book has more laughs.

My Verdict:

The Book:  - A quick, emotion-packed read (but you might also roll your eyes occasionally)
The Film:   - Well acted and moving, but a bit slow to get going


As Good as it Gets


  1. I was hoping you would review this!
    completely agree, the film was so amazing. Probably one of the best adaptations ive seen, though the book always wins:)

  2. Thank you! And yeah, thought the film couldn't have done it better really!

  3. I also prefer the book version!!


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