Thursday, February 23, 2012

Adaptation Angst: The Fault in Our Stars

I'd been hearing a lot of good buzz about the YA novel The Fault in Our Stars even before it got optioned this month, so I decided to pick it up last night. When I put it down, finished, early this morning, I was terrified.

The novel, though sharing key plot points with not a few Lifetime movies and at least one Cameron Diaz flick, does not surrender to the easy cliches of a "kids with cancer" love story. Though you might see the resolution coming from about halfway through, the book's strengths (and they are formidable) come from the way it gets there.

The book's star-crossed lovers, teenagers Hazel and Augustus, are stricken with thyroid cancer and osteosarcoma, respectively. The two engaging and fully realized characters are simultaneously constantly consumed with, and utterly disinterested in, their diseases. You will like them before you pity them, which all sounds well and good for a movie adaptation. Except . . .

The ravages of illness on both of their bodies are veritable plot points in and of themselves. Hazel has a steroid-swollen face, hair still growing in from chemo, and an ever-present oxygen tank. Augustus lost a leg to his bone cancer prior to the action of the novel. The film will have to cast, especially in Hazel's case, an actor who is not conventionally healthy-looking, let alone beautiful.

Also, the two speak in the sort of hyper-educated and quirky patois that reads like a dream but can turn precious and cloying in film (see the dialogue of the eponymous heroine of Juno, which I quite liked but others felt was too contrived). However, dialing down the idiosyncratic smarts of either character means losing a crucial part of their backstory. Hazel and Augustus have both spent a lot of time out of school, reading in bed. Pretending that didn't affect what they know and how they speak would be a betrayal not only of the source material but also the integrity of the characters.

I would love to see this film done right, but I have nightmares of Dakota Fanning and Peeta/Gayle dancing through my head.

Adaptation Angst: 9.5

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