Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’/Photo: James Bridges © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Ordinarily I avoid any occasion at which people are likely to shriek but I caught myself requesting - nay, begging - to attend a recent "The Fault in Our Stars" event, despite the fact that it promised to be a veritable shriekfest. The reason? Like so many others, I am absolutely in love with the book from which it's adapted.
To those who've not read The Fault in Our Stars, the romance between Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl with stage IV thyroid cancer and Gus, a seventeen-year-old boy who's lost a leg to osteosarcoma, may not sound appealing. But rest assured that, with dark humor and hard-won emotional and philosophical revelations, author John Green has created a new classic - and not just for the Young Adult crowd. And anyone who's already in love with these characters has been excited about the film adaptation ever since the release of its original tagline: "One sick love story." (Subsequent ads for the film dropped it.)
The good news: The movie does justice to the book. Without disclosing any spoilers, it's safe to say Shailene Woodley is an ideal Hazel and Ansel Elgort is an ideal Gus. Also on point: Nat Wolff as Isaac, Gus's best friend, and Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel's parents. Along with director Josh Boone and author Green, they were all in attendance for a post-screening Q&A as well as a press conference the next day.
Six things to know:
There may never be a novelist more involved in the film adaptation of his movie than John Green. With his geeky glasses and even geekier enthusiasm, Green says he was present for nearly every day of the filming of "The Fault in Our Stars," as well as for most of the cast's end-of-day "family meals." ("We cried all day and laughed all night.") In both panel discussions, more comments were directed to him than to Shailene and Ansel, and the author fielded nearly every question directed to the overall panel, who seemed too awed by his words to mind. In turn, Green says, "It was so overwhelming to me that these talented people were bringing the characters I wrote to life and honoring the book I wrote. Plus, there were some sad parts." Yep, Green talks exactly like his novels.
Laura Dern is radiantly lovely inside and out. I've been a fan of the actress since "Blue Velvet" but never thought of her as especially easy on the eyes until this event. I think that's because, cliché be damned, her beauty runs soul-deep, which is more evident in person. Decked out in a smart frock and bright violet heels, she presented as gracious, warm, and wise. At one point, she says, "There is a bravery to love because it inevitably has an endgame, and how we do navigate that?" (This was about as typical a press event as "The Fault in Our Stars" is a typical YA novel.)
Shailene has always wondered what it'd be like to kiss her brother. That's what she jokes when asked what it's like to play the love interest of an actor who plays her brother in a different film. (She and Ansel play siblings in "Divergent.") She goes on to say, "If Ansel and I hadn't worked together before, our relationship wouldn't be what it is in 'Fault in Our Stars.' We were already comfortable with each other, already honest about what did and did not work."
In general, Shailene has an edge. She says of all the characters in the book, she'd most like to have a meal with Sisyphus the Hamster. She wears her short hair in a simple side part, jiggles her leg nonstop while sitting, and doesn't suffer foolish questions. She tells one journalist to breakdance before posing a question, and tells another, "We've already seen the movie on the big screen" when asked which scene she's most excited to watch. She says she hates the term "YA" but loves young adults themselves, whom she describes as "incredible, really passionate because when we are young our love is so pure." Edge be damned, Shailene is, delightfully, a bit of a hippie. She says, "I'm one of those people who's like, 'Everything's meant to be.'"
That said, Shailene was almost not cast as Hazel. Perhaps because she's six years older than Hazel, director Boone says initially he couldn't envision her in the part. "But then I saw her read in a eulogy scene, and I was like, Why did I make it so hard for myself?"
Everybody is going to have a crush on at least one of the males in this movie. With his shaggy earnestness, Sam Trammell (Sam on "True Blood") is heartbreaking as Hazel's dad and in his appreciation of his co-panelists. Ansel - all bright eyes, rangy build, and aw-shucks innocence on screen and in person - is going to cause a lot more shrieking once this film is released. ("Fault" is his first lead.) During the press conference, Shailene describes him as "a music producer, ballet dancer, and amazing pianist who also paints miniatures" while he blushes furiously. (I don't get the sense they're dating, despite certain rumors.) But the real headline is Nat Wolff, to whom John Green credits most of the film's funny lines that are not in the book. "I practiced playing blind by going out with my mom [Polly Draper of 'Thirtysomething']," Wolff says. He's like a young Harold Ramis, if the late writer-director-actor had boasted rock-star looks. The only male cast member not poised to break hearts in this film? Willem Dafoe. Suffice it to say Dafoe portrays the alcoholic, misanthropic writer Peter Van Houten too effectively to make anyone's heart skip a beat.