The much awaited adaption of the John Green novel delivers near enough as I expected it to.
Not so long ago I found myself writing about how as someone who loves films one of the best things you can experience is being proved wrong. By this I mean when you judge a film too quickly and think it’s going to be bad, only to find that once you’ve watched it you realise just how good it actually is. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions and I really wish that I could have said this about the film in question, but I found that my rather low expectations were met.
Now I will say first of all that I haven’t read the book so I knew very little about the events and the characters, so I can’t possibly comment on the book itself. Any opinions I hold are on the film alone, I’m not about to criticise Green without ever actually having read his work.
For those who are unaware as to what the film is about it basically focuses on the relationship between a young cancer patient named Hazel, and ex-cancer patient Gus. They meet at a group meeting for those affected by cancer and soon find themselves floating between friendship and something more. There are obvious developments, one of which involves a trip to Amsterdam amongst various emotional troubles as well. It’s not particularly complex but the main characters and smaller characters do hold it together quite nicely for the majority. It did become quite tedious for me at times, particularly in the middle where we find the characters going through a repetitive “we’re going to Amsterdam, oh no we aren’t, actually we are, on second thoughts no we’re not” which did rack up the running time making it, in my opinion, far too long. At over two hours long there is clearly come material that could be taken out in order to make it more engaging. At one point in the cinema screening I began looking at the light fixtures and thinking about them, which just shows how disengaged I was from the film because it did start to get boring. It’s not completely without interest, it just became a little ill disciplined.
For me the characters were varied, in the sense that there were some who I really liked and others I could not stand. The female protagonist Hazel is one that I liked, partly due to how well she was played by Shailene Woodly. She upholds a firm level of realism when addressing her illness so it did make her easy to connect with without being annoyingly optimistic or pessimistic. She is rather complex, reading the same book over and over and not really liking a lot of people but this was quite a nice change from ordinary female characters in romance films. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum you’ve got her love interest, Gus. For me the character of Gus was very annoying. I know he’s meant to be charming and funny and the ‘mr right’ type figure but I found his arrogance very off putting, and with reference to his “unlit cigarette” metaphor I’m afraid to say I did find him very pretentious. I didn’t completely hate him because there are developments in his character that show he is three dimensional, but for the most part I found myself to be the only one in the screening who didn’t laugh at him.
The supporting cast is very strong, with Laura Dern and Sam Trammwell proving to be excellent as Hazel’s parents. However one of the best performances for me came in the form of the writer Van Houten played by Willem Dafoe. He managed to capture how worn down and uncaring the writer was and presented him as someone who wasn’t very likable at all. I felt that Dafoe brought something to a rather cold character, making his character one that both intrigued me and annoyed me. He is at the base of his character a fatalist; he sees endings as inevitable and accepts them all to willingly, but he isn’t just bitter. He has a different side to him as we see him as someone who can change his mind. I was worried he was going to be the bog standard run down writer who drinks and shouts a lot but I was pleasantly surprised to see him develop.
I feel bad for saying this but I didn’t cry at the film. I can understand why someone would cry because it is an incredibly sad story, but I don’t think I’m the target audience so it didn’t have as big an impact on me as all of the young girls in the same screening. I think it helps if you’ve read the book because you understand the characters more and you know what’s coming. In fact I would go so far as to argue that if you haven’t read the book then it’s very likely you won’t cry at the film.
As well as not crying, I didn’t laugh once at the film. The character of Gus is one that is designed to be funny but I found him so annoying that when everyone was laughing at him I was sat with my eyes closed and my head in my hands because it just wasn’t funny. I understand that the script was written by the same people who wrote ‘500 Days of Summer’ so they are good at what they do, but I had the same problem with that film too, it tries to hard to be different and to avoid cliches that is just ends up falling in to a whole other bunch of cliches. There were times when I acknowledged that something was funny but it still didn’t cause me to laugh.
There were other problems with the script for me in the sense that for a romance film it was very sloppy in places. I’m opened minded about films so I don’t mind romance films, but they have to be done well. In the case of this film there were lines that did make me think and had different levels of meaning behind it, but then there are others that were ridiculous. The best example of this I can give is the reoccurring line throughout the film, which I am informed is actually in the book, and it’s the repetition of the word “ok”. It basically spawns from a couple at the start of the film who repeatedly say “always” to each other, meaning that they will always love each other. Cringe worthy already I know but this is developed by Hazel and Gus who realise they are saying “ok” a lot, to which one of them remarks “perhaps ok will be our always”. I know various teenagers love this line and think it means a lot, but really it doesn’t. It was one of the most frustrating and badly written lines I’ve come across recently, which is a shame because there are lines in the film I did like. It might just be because I’m interested in screenplay writing and I’ve become very picky but I just felt that like I said before, it tried too hard to avoid cliches that it fell in to another category of cliches.
There were other things that annoyed me about the film but they were so small that it made me realise that I can’t have been engaged enough in the film. It was simple things like the product placement. There were far too many Apple products splattered throughout the film that it makes you realise just whos’ paying for the film. But I doubt this was a problem for many other people.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I hated the film, but equally I wouldn’t say that it’s a good film. The redeeming feature for me that held the film together was the character of Hazel. Her complexity and her strength as a character made her very likable and I did sympathise for her because she was a character worth liking. She was written very well and played equally well so it was nice to have something in the film that remained a constant merit throughout. Not once did I think something negative about her character and did save the film for me.
As much as I disliked the film I do have to admire it to an extent. It took a topic that is sensitive and moulded it around a love story without being insensitive. It dealt with the topic very well and it was with the help of the supporting characters that the film felt human. I was worried that the film was going to attempt to be too different but it appears the screenplay writers have learned their lesson since ‘500 Days of Summer’ so that was a relief.
Overall on the five star scale I would give the film two and a half, but if we were to use the Roger Ebert four star scale I would give it two stars. It’s difficult to judge this film because I’m aware that it is aimed at a certain audience and I haven’t read the book. As a piece of film I didn’t think it was as good as it could have been which was a shame and it’s not the sort of film I’m bitter about, I’m just disappointed. There were elements that ultimately I didn’t like, but it was the central character of Hazel that held the film together for me.
Also for those who haven’t read my post about ‘500 Days of Summer’ and don’t understand my views on it, the original post can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/500-days-of-summer-results-in-500-minutes-of-over-thinking/