June 5, 2014
I read the book by John Green in one morning. It was a quick read, but it was uncomfortable to read in its sadness. This novel was about the story of two cancer-stricken teenagers who meet and find love in a cancer-support group meeting. I am surprised it was a bestseller given the book's topic seemed so morose and upsetting for the young adults that it targets.
This book is a must-read for people who take care of cancer patients because it gives you an insight into their mindsets. I thought it was well-researched as the the behavior of young people with cancer. That it was written in the first person point of view of a dying 16-year old girl struck a sad sensitive nerve. It was also written well enough to build up and highlight several key moments with romantic thrill and genuine emotion.
That said, I found the language of this novel rather indulgent as a whole. Too many of the words and metaphors used did not believably belong to the vocabulary of the age group of the teen protagonists. Do you honestly know a teenager who says things like "existentially fraught" to describe their basketball free throws? While the subplot should have been interesting, the situations that involved author Peter Van Houten made no sense, and were very unrealistically written.
The script of the film version is a very faithful adaptation by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber of its source novel. It is so faithful that the faults of the book also become its faults. The film is two hours and ten minutes long. Given its miserable theme and slow pace, it felt too long, sometimes wallowing too much in its own misery. Luckily, the dialog in the film's script were more believably teenage than it was in the book. I enjoyed the delightful animation used to show us the text messages between the two lovers. The wonderful soundtrack consisted of cool songs by Ed Sheeran and several other indie-type musicians. This type of music highly complemented the film's youthful angst.
Also, the film benefits from the earnest performances from its main cast. Shailene Woodley has a malleable face, not too perfectly pretty or distinct, just right for portraying a wide array of characters. She was really very effective as Hazel Grace, given that this was such a difficult part to play, demanding both physically and emotionally. Ansel Elgort had the charisma required to play her ideal boyfriend, Augustus. The unbelievable perfection of his character as written becomes his limitation as actor.
Ironically, for me the best parts of the book did not materialize that well on screen. These were their Dutch-motif picnic in the park and their heart-to-heart talk about the new PET scan result. The way Ansel Elgort delivered his lines in these two important scenes were not clear enough to create the welling dramatic impact they did in the book. The script did not even include that highly-emotional moment towards the end when there was dead silence after a recording of a beloved voice invited to leave a voice mail.
Locally, this was rated PG, despite scenes where breasts were being fondled and clothes were being removed. When I was reading, I was worried about how the scenes of premarital sex would be translated on screen since my daughter wanted to watch the film. The writers made the characters in the film older by a year compared to the book. But still, I wish the director Josh Boone could have been more discreet with this scene, since the book has a lot of very young fans. I think the appropriate rating should be at least have been PG-13.
Overall, I think this film is good to watch depending on your mood. It can give you a good cry if you let it, though I thought the book might be more effective a tearjerker than the film. The best thing about this film is seeing Woodley and Elgort together as Hazel and Gus. The both of them had captured so well the essential chemistry of these two star-crossed lovers as described in the book, and this saves the film from being too depressing. 7/10.