Sunday, December 4, 2022

The fault in our films

June 9, 2014
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My assistant coach lent me the book "The Fault in Our Stars" last week. I read it in less than a day, shut the book, cried about one page in particular, bookmarked several thought-provoking pages, and blew up everyone’s Twitter feed with #TFIOS quotes.

Its movie counterpart made an estimated $26.1 million on Friday, while Tom Cruise’s new film "Edge of Tomorrow" cashed in $10.6 million for a distant second place for movie releases. 

For those of you not familiar with the plot, the story’s protagonist and narrator, Hazel, is a teenage girl with stage IV thyroid cancer. She reveals to the reader her honest thoughts on cancer, her fears on how it affects her parents, the depths of her favorite book, and her romance with fellow cancer patient, Augustus (Gus) Waters. 

Since the movie came out, young girls have taken to social media to profess the attractiveness of the actor Ansel Elgort, who played Augustus. They tweet about how much they bawled through the film because of its romantic and tragic love story. 

Unfortunately, these girls missed the point, and the screenwriters did too. 

The screenwriters, in a successful attempt to appeal to the teenage girl demographic, focused strictly on Hazel and Augustus’ romance. Hazel’s parents and friends became minor characters. Her mom was portrayed as a dumbed-down “gal pal” who tried too hard. 

In one scene on an airplane, Hazel’s mom told Hazel and Gus, “You two are adorable.” She also used the word amazing so many times I thought I was watching "The Bachelorette". Here is a character that was multi-faceted in the book, but minimized to mere interjections in the film. 

My mom died of uterine cancer in April. She was an extraordinary woman who led a strong and charitable life. John Green’s novel "The Fault in Our Stars" challenged me to think about her and her disease in a different way. 

In his book, Green captured both how cancer affects entire support systems, and how cancer does not swallow up a person’s whole identity. 

I do not have cancer, but I lost weight, sleep, fitness, optimism, drive and a slew of other things due to my mom’s fight with the disease. A number of family members and friends are journeying through personal hells to come to terms with my mom’s struggle as well. This in no way compares to what she went through; rather, it shows that cancer harmfully affects more than just one person. 

Seeing the film version of "The Fault in Our Stars" offended me because it downplayed a very real part of my life that the book version successfully connected with. Watering down the plot to emphasize the love story was a cowardly move on the director’s part. 

I understand the film is already more than two hours long. Some parts of the story needed to be modified or trimmed, but diluting nearly every character except the teenage lovers was a poor and tasteless choice. 

One of my all-time favorite films, "Forrest Gump," was also based on a book. It manages to capture a love story while also emphasizing Forrest’s relationships with friends and family. "The Fault in Our Stars" could have done the same. 

"The Fault in Our Stars" had a chance at becoming a movie masterpiece. Instead, it decided to throw itself next to the "Twilight" movie series. The focus is on the lovers and the dialogue is long and lifeless. Kristen Stewart’s character in "Twilight" also has a father who plays an extremely minimal role — as if any teenager in a romantic relationship doesn't have parents involved in his or her life. 

To be fair, "Twilight" wasn’t necessarily bad, and "The Fault in Our Stars" wasn’t either. But downplaying the scope of cancer and Hazel’s support system in "The Fault in Our Stars" is more than inaccurate, it’s insulting to those of us that have experienced the realities of a life-threatening disease. 

Melanie Brender is a communications and social relations and policy senior. Reach her at brenderm@msu.edu.

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