Friday, June 6, 2014

President Dog Takes On...: The Fault In Our Stars (Or The Opinion of a Critical-Eyed, Mid-20s Male Nerdfighter)

Hello everyone out there, kind of a different entry to the blog this time around, as in we're not talking anime or anything animated for that matter. So pardon me if I eschew my typical introduction and get down to brass tacks a little sooner. Last night, yours truly was part of the local viewing audience for the highly anticipated movie premiere of The Fault In Our Stars, based on a wildly popular novel by John Green (A young adult fiction author and YouTube star that I have quickly grown to enjoy in several aspects). I'll spare the overall details for those who haven't read the book and/or seen the movie yet, but it's a romantic drama about two teens with different forms of cancer who meet, grow and fall in love together, told in a realistic style with buckets and buckets of real genuine emotion throughout.

Before I go on, let me say something that will likely dismiss my opinion from a lot of people's consideration: I haven't read the book this movie is based upon.

Yes, I'm the evil spawn of hell for not reading the book before seeing the movie, but hear me out on this one, I have a method to my obvious madness here. I wanted to go into viewing this story as blind as possible to let the movie make its own impact on me without external influence. I'm sure the vast majority of people who either have seen the movie or will see it and have read the book will be matching it up to the source material along the way, decreasing the film's chances for its own unique impact on the audience. Personally I prefer my approach because I feel any adaptation of a previous work needs to be able stand on its own to truly be worthwhile. For example, a few years back I saw another movie adaptation of a book series, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, on a whim one night and was blown away by its visual flair, fun story and fast-paced action, all of which carried over well from its source material. Being read after gaining the context of the movie, the books enriched my experience, adding scenes, jokes and characterization the movie didn't or couldn't capture. I'd imagine if I had read the books first I'd be complaining about certain scenes not being included or maybe even interpreting characters differently than what the film was trying to establish; in short, I'd be disappointed in all that was removed instead of knowing I had more to add onto my base visual experience. That being said, I certainly hope that the source material of this movie enriches this experience far more because if the movie stands on its own I do have at least one or two pretty significant issues with how the movie panned out.

After viewing this film I've had two major opportunities to express my opinion on my experience, even going so far as to write them out, but not submitting them, not wanting to ruin the chorus of the target audience's praise, which included multitudes of teenage females talking about crying their eyes out and how beautiful the main leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort were together. I've held back on those pages because the praise and criticism I have for the film seems rational beyond the years of said target audience and quite frankly, I don't feel like facing the targeted wrath of emotional teenage girls at the moment. Plus I have this little place to express every unpopular opinion I have, so why waste that on a Fandango review page with a character limit? That being said, I'll give you the short version I was going to put together for Fandango:

I highly respect the effort and passion the cast and crew put into adapting John Green's hit novel and for the most part it results in a well-shot, well-acted movie, but I did have a few caveats with the characterization, namely in our male lead. Now I'll forgive Ansel Elgort if Gus is supposed to come of as arrogant and intentionally just a little too perfect, but regardless, that's how he felt to me throughout the entirety of the film and it dragged the relationship down so much for me. All the other major characters felt like real, genuine teenagers/young adults except for him, lost in his pretentiousness and ego he built for beating his disease. On a positive note, Willem Dafoe's role as the recluse drunken author Peter Van Houten left the most impact on me and his scenes were my favorites, without a doubt, especially the Swedish hip-hop scene. Also, Nat Wolff's character Isaac deserves a mention for being an excellent comic relief, whether chucking eggs or breaking trophies.

Yes, I'll get it out of the way. I couldn't stand, at least in this interpretation, the character of Augustus Waters. I say 'this interpretation' because as I'm writing this, I'm currently listening along with a reading of the first chapter of the book (read by John Green himself and provided at the end of the paragraph) where his dialogue and mannerisms could easily be interpreted much differently than what I expressed above. In the book I personally hear a snarky, sarcastic tone with tongue planted firmly in cheek through the more cheesy pieces of dialogue rather than the self-absorbed, arrogant attitude Ansel Elgort brought to the role. His performance, like I mentioned before, took me out of a lot of the development between Gus and Hazel, which is truly a shame because I did highly enjoy Shailene Woodley's heartfelt, genuine performance of a girl falling in love for the first time and dealing with the heavy weight of life that has fallen on her all at once. It's just unfortunate that she was paired with a romantic lead that felt far too perfect and fell into that dream romantic interest cliche to me, from bumping into each other for their first meeting, him somehow getting a way to contact Hazel's author idol, Peter Van Houten, to all the cheesy, fake sounding lines played for being something deeper than what they should be and realistically would never fall out of a typical teen's mouth.


Speaking of Van Houten and getting to a more positive note, Willem Dafoe stole this entire movie for me with his performance, albeit a short and, in my opinion, unjustly vilified one. The one major scene that I will defend him is where Gus and Hazel travel to Amsterdam to visit him, trying to get answers related to his book called An Imperial Affliction. Granted, he does get rather short with our leads in his responses to them, breaking his seclusion in a moment of a weakness, but in likely my most favorite scene in the movie, he tries to make a point on emotion and tone using music, in this case Swedish hip-hop music. Trying to answer how his style and abrupt ending to his book were a thematic choice beyond the direct words printed on the page, he expresses that the music still portrays its intended emotion and mood without the knowledge of the words. Of course our leads miss the point, Gus going as far as rudely grabbing the stereo's remote and turning the music off, refusing to think deeper on their questions and their emotions on life, which lead to emotions flaring and Gus and Hazel getting kicked out of Van Houten's house. The whole time I felt like our leads were being irrational and refusing to accept answers from someone who at least felt was on a higher level of thinking than they were when they didn't match up to their expectations. To be fair, I do see it from both ends of the argument, being invested in something so deeply and wanting to know answers, but also knowing sometimes those questions don't have answers and should probably stay that way, especially in the case of fictional characters when our own lives are of far more importance, whether or not our time on this earth is limited. Even when Van Houten appears again closer to the end of the film, they still undercut him and make him out to be the bad guy when all he's trying to do is add a deeper perspective on things, not to mention deliver something special to Hazel that bookends the story overall.

Also, like I mentioned briefly near the end of that short summary, Nat Wolff's performance as the blind mutual friend of Gus and Hazel, Isaac, was a real joy and a necessity to keeping this whole story from plunging into depression in a nosedive. Two scenes stick out prominently: the first is when Isaac's girlfriend breaks up with him after he undergoes his surgery that leaves him completely blind. In order to handle his grief, Gus offers Isaac the chance to break one of his old basketball trophies to let out his rage, which evolves into a great run of comedic screaming, breaking of several more trophies and a great release in the face of growing romantic tension between our leads, even overshadowing a dialogue between them. The second scene involves Gus, Hazel and Isaac getting revenge on Isaac's ex-girlfriend by egging her car and house. From guiding our blind companion towards aiming right to the throw where he almost lands a direct hit on his former girlfriend's mother, it's just gold.

Beyond those major things, I don't have many other strong feelings about this movie. It does tug at your heartstrings plenty throughout, it's wonderfully shot and the music, although nothing I'd run to buy the soundtrack for, fits the movie well and I can tell that all involved believed highly in making this the best interpretation of John Green's original vision it could be. I didn't expect to be blown away and give this film unending praise and I was right, but I certainly don't think it was a waste. I loved being able to support a creative work of Mr. Green's, beyond my own viewership of his online work (BTW, definitely check out his YouTube work between vlogbrothers, CrashCourse, Mental_Floss and all of his brother Hank's works, including SciShow and his music) and I have even higher hopes for movie versions of his other works, such as the book Paper Towns, to be even better films overall. This film, however, was clearly not made with someone like myself in mind. I will not discourage those who this would appeal to from seeing this however, I'm sure millions of bawling, yet excited girls can't be wrong when it comes to something like this. Anyway, thanks for reading my thoughts on this matter, however odd, unpopular or incorrect they may turn out to be. I promise I will read the actual book when I get it back from my mom and sister, to whom I gave a copy as a gift last Christmas and have yet to get a chance to retrieve it. Next time, I promise we get back to normal programming and indulging in our typical animated fare.

To give you all something special near the end here and to break up this giant mountain of text, here's the latest trailer for Sailor Moon Crystal, which premieres in Japan on July 5th. DFTBA everyone!