The title of what is likely the hit young adult romance of the decade—The Fault in Our Stars—is a riff on Shakespeare’s famous lines from Julius Caesar:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Volumes could be written about this couplet, about its implications for privilege and bootstrapping ideology. Hell, if you really wanted to, you could surely argue that The Fault in Our Stars is a criticism of the disturbingly prevalent idea that simple hard work and perseverance can allow us to overcome the limitations put upon us by our birth, whether they be class, race, gender, sexuality, or illness. The characters afflicted with cancer in John Green’s best-selling novel have accepted that their condition is no fault of their own and are capable of living a full life in spite of their shortened lifespan. If this sounds like a level of maturity you would not expect of a teenager, you would be far from the only one, but I would ask you to check your cynicism at the door.
Green’s oeuvre has a history of arguing against the common stereotypes of the American teenager, presenting protagonists and supporting cast alike as intelligent, thoughtful people who are just as human—if not more so—than the adults in their lives. The Fault in Our Stars puts him in a unique position to convince readers that a life lived in the teen years—lived only in the teen years no less—can be as full a life as one lived for decades longer. The Fault in Our Stars paints Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac as human beings filled with emotion rather than the saint-like portrayal of young cancer patients in the slightly disturbing “sick lit” genre. The novel was something I could not put down until I finished it, and I know I am not alone in saying it brought tears to my eyes. The film took the best of the novel, shucked what it needed to to keep a respectable running time, and added a little bit of flare and humor beyond the source material.
The only absence I noted throughout the film was that of a particular bit of foreshadowing. It was not something necessary for the film, but it is the kind of trick that makes books work so well. Despite needing to cut reams of paper from the initial novel just to hit a 2-hour running time, Josh Boone’s adaptation serves to give the characters a different kind of depth than what was presented in the novel. We see Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos comics scattered across Augustus’s room and a V for Vendetta poster on his wall that tell us that not only are the filmmakers giving nods to the source material when they cannot directly use it, but they are staying true to and expanding on the characterization they had in the novel.
The soundtrack and relevant voice overs—from inner monologues to narration from the Diary of Anne Frank when Augustus and Hazel visit her house in Amsterdam—give scenes a very different weight than text alone could provide. Being able to hear Afasi och Filthy as Willem Dafoe sinks into a brilliantly foul portrayal of Peter Van Houten perfectly illustrated the danger of meeting your idols. The filmmakers’ technique for bringing Hazel and Gus’s texts to the screen may not seem original when such antics are on display on popular shows like Sherlock, but they gave the film another level of charm.
With incredible performance all around, I have no doubt that there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater as every significant actor delivered on what was the most resounding theme of The Fault in Our Stars: the true heroes journey is not that of weakness to strength, but of strength to weakness. All of this comes as little surprise to someone who has both read The Fault in Our Stars and seen Boone’s directorial debut Stuck in Love, as the pairing of a breakout director with an incredible source material and the desire to remain faithful to the intent of the source is a recipe for success. With Boone and Wolff both attached to the upcoming Paper Towns adaptation, I expect they truly are on a roller coaster that only goes up.
Having said all of this, heaped praise upon praise on The Fault in Our Stars and genuinely believed it to be one of the best love stories I have seen in some time, I do have one significant criticism to levy at both the film and the book: they are painfully white.
I struggled to find a person of color in the film outside of the very brief appearance of Hazel’s doctor. Part of this is a side effect of the American healthcare system. This is a story about people who are either living with or have survived cancer, and that’s not cheap. It takes both wealth and good insurance to survive a cancer diagnosis in the United States, and as of 2010, the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics below the poverty line was nearly triple that of caucasians. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for a handful of random cancer survivors to lean more heavily toward the caucasian, but that isn’t an excuse. This is a work of fiction. Even if Hazel weren’t on a completely fictional drug that lets her hover between life and death, there would be no excuse for the lack of diversity in the cast. As it stands, they are willing to bend the laws of science and medicine for the sake of their story—it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to have people of color play some roles, and it is here that the fault is in ourselves, for this is a thing we can control.
The Fault in Our Stars is an incredible adaptation with wonderful performances from everyone involved. It literally moved me to tears on multiple occasions. There is not a single actor I would have wanted to replace, and yet I wish it could have been as progressive in its casting as it is in its depictions of the lives and emotions of its cast.
David Fairbanks is a freelance writer, poet, and artist. You can find him on Twitter at @bairfanx.