This may shock some people, but The Fault in Our Stars, a romantic drama based on a book by YA author John Green, actually drew more viewers its opening weekend than a big sci-fi action summer blockbuster starring Tom Cruise. If you read one of the 7 million copies of The Fault in Our Stars that have been sold so far, if you’ve passed it on to a friend or relative, if you’ve run screaming across a room to embrace someone who you’ve discovered has also just read the book, if you’ve followed the progress of TFiOS from book to screen worrying that the filmmakers might cast the wrong Hazel or cut your favorite line, then you will hardly be surprised.
At first glance the story — two teenagers who happen to have cancer meet and fall in love — may seem trite, but the way it’s handled from beginning to end makes it fresh, powerful, at times funny, and realistic. Green began writing about teens who have cancer after working with teenage cancer patients. His main character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, was inspired by Esther Grace Earl, an ardent fan whose memoir has just been published posthumously.
The responses I’ve witnessed from fans have been overwhelming positive. Hazel is still Hazel (Shailene Woodley is so natural and likable, its no wonder everyone wants her in their movies), the tear-inducing scenes still necessitate tissues, and the humor survives. There are a few moments that I think the movie actually improved, like the scene in the Anne Frank House. In the movie, a few of Anne’s own words speak for the emotions that Hazel and Gus (Ansel Elgort, who pulls off the people-never-sound-this-smart-in-real-life dialog) must feel in that moment. The scenes involving Hazel’s favorite author, Peter Van Houten, (a perfectly cast Willem Dafoe) also play out more successfully on screen than they did on the page.
I watched the movie with a close friend, and surrounded by teenagers wearing DIY TFiOS t-shirts. They awwed over Gus, cheered when Hazel told Van Houten what he could do with himself, and sniffled audibly throughout the show. My friend and I smiled and giggled at their reactions while soaking a few tissues, ourselves. The Fault in Our Stars, both the book and the movie, isn’t just a story for teens; it’s one that anyone who’s ever contemplated oblivion, felt love or grief, or been disappointed by someone you admire can relate to. There may be particular moments that hit especially hard. It could be a glimpse of a drainage tube that reminds you of a loved one, or a chest x-ray that reminds you of yourself. It could be a line of dialog like, “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up…” In the end, aren’t we all grenades?