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For those who’ve been waiting for it since the novel’s 2012 release, the makers of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars remained determined to stay as loyal to the source material as Hollywood would allow. That proves both a blessing and a curse.
Almost everything you would want is present. The characters, witty dialogue, locations, and essential story structure have been lifted from Indianapolis native John Green's 313-page book and turned into a nearly identical 215-minute movie by director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.
Details that had ample space devoted to them in the book are given graceful nods through posters plastered on walls and other thoughtfully placed props. Characters never explicitly mention that the story is set in Indianapolis (though filmed in Pittsburgh), but the city is shown love by way of a church sign here and a Pacers jersey there (audience members in this reviewer’s screening let out a gasp at the sight of a North Central High School banner located in the bedroom of Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort).
Faithfully re-creating the world of Hazel Grace Lancaster, portrayed by Shailene Woodley, at times seems to be the main goal of the film.
While minor characters are omitted and multiple scenes sometimes compressed into solitary ones, what made The Fault in Our Stars resonate with readers for two years, enough for 20th Century Fox to produce and boldly release the film in the dog days of summer blockbuster season, is intact.
That means there are no real surprises to be had.
Neustadter and Weber, who wrote the energetically honest “story about love” in 2009’s (500) Days of Summer and last year’s impressive The Spectacular Now, don’t stray far from Green’s work, leaving little room for their own creative touches outside of the film’s bookends. The biggest laugh for this reviewer came from a throwaway joke that wasn’t in the book, a rare find here.
The film is certainly carried by the performances of Woodley and Elgort as the story’s star-crossed, cancer-stricken couple. But it receives much-needed doses of gravitas and vigor from Willem Defoe as the eccentric author of the book over which Hazel and Augustus bond. His presence brings the best out of the twentysomething actors playing teenagers, most noticeably in Elgort, who has all of the charisma you could ask for but whose eye-opening acting ability doesn’t surface until late in the going.
Often we complain about books-turned-movies diverting too far from the story’s original vision and being watered down to appeal to a studio’s targeted demographic. As the first movie to adapt Green's words, The Fault in Our Stars is a success in that it brings an emotional story and a potent message faithfully to the screen. It may also have been too faithful.
Note: For sport, this writer counted the number of non-chaperoned audience members entering the theater at 9 p.m. on June 5. The final tally: 95 women and 20 men.
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