Film Review – The Fault in Our Stars

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Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can say that “The Fault in Our Stars” is truly a great adaptation of its source material, as well as a great film in its own right. I went to see the film with my sceptical mother, who became even more sceptical once she realised the demographic was comprised (other than us) of 13 year-old girls. I’m sadistically happy to report that she ended the film crying her eyes out in the bathroom.

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What makes this film so good, and consequently so upsetting, is how authentic and familiar the teenage characters feel – especially the manner in which they face their predicaments. The protagonist, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), states in her introductory narration that this isn’t a film about beautiful people learning beautiful life lessons. Her unfortunate life circumstances and her tragic story aren’t treated as precursors to a moment of epiphany. People in Hazel’s world don’t die because God needs another angel. Her diagnosis, and the diagnoses of her friends, are unfair and random mistakes with no greater philosophical meaning. The absence of a silver lining or a life lesson is what makes the film so hard to swallow, but ultimately so refreshing.

fblog97Woodley is just perfect as Hazel, combining her cynical wit with vulnerability. Her relationship with her parents is, if it’s possible, even more heartbreaking in the film than in the book. The flashbacks to Hazel receiving treatment as a child deepen the later moments with her parents. Her mum (Laura Dern) expresses so much without words; the look on her face when she tells Hazel she can’t afford to take her to Amsterdam, the panic every time Hazel calls her name, and the cheery grin failing to mask so much anxiety, are all tough to watch.fblog93

As in the book, the male lead Augustus (Ansel Elgort) starts off as something of a wish-fulfillment figure or a male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl prototype, the initial courtship between Hazel and Augustus a little forced. Yet he soon evolves into a fully-developed character in his own right. His role as the confident, charismatic hero helping the more sombre heroine to live a little makes his own story arc all the more affecting, his evolution all the more shocking.

Like the book it remains so faithful to, the film upends the so-called ‘cancer genre’ cliches. “The Fault in Our Stars” replaces sentimentality with realism and ironically produces something that’s even more emotionally moving as a result. Tissues advised.

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For my  full review of the book have a gander at https://madwomaninanattic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/book-review-the-fault-in-our-stars/

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Film Review – Divergent (spoiler light-ish)

blogd1 blogd2“Divergent” made an impressive $56 million during its opening weekend, easily leaving recent YA adaptation box office flops “Beautiful Creatures” and “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” trailing forlornly in the dust. Adapted from Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy, the film has been hotly anticipated as the potential successor to the colossal “The Hunger Games” trilogy. There are indeed certain cursory similarities. “Divergent” is set in a futuristic dystopian Chicago in which society is divided by personality type into five distinct factions. “The Hunger Games” is set in a similarly post-apocalyptic United States, in which an autocratic ‘Capitol’ presidblogd11es over twelve sharply divided districts. Yet while “The Hunger Games” revolves around a teenaged heroine, it never feels like it can merely be enjoyed and appreciated by the very age group it portrays. The idea of a reality program in which children fight to the death as a punishment for their parents’ insurrection is both clever and disturbing; its uncanny parallels with our reality-obsessed society can be appreciated by people of all ages. The premise of “Divergent” is much less inventive. The surviving population of Chicago is separated into factions: Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the smart), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest) and Abnegation (the selfless). This form of cataloging taps into our obsession with self-categorization and self-analysis, attested to by the sheer volume of ‘Which (insert anything here) are you?’ quizzes on Buzzfeed. To this day I have friends discussing which Hogwarts house they’d be sorted into, or even whether they’d be a House Stark or a House Lannister if they lived in Westeros. Indeed there’s now even a Buzzfeed quiz for “Divergent” fans – see http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/which-divergent-faction-do-you-actually-belong-in (I was Abnegation: apparently if I was Tris I’d have stayed safely in my faction and there’d be no story to tell).

blogd8 blogd10But (spoiler) some people don’t fit neatly into one category. These people are ‘divergent’. So the film has a very simply premise with a very simple message: people are complicated and conformity is bad. Criticisms of the plot’s basis aside, my reaction to watching much of “Divergent” can be summarized by this gif…

blogd13The film was entertaining and easy to watch. Despite its 139 minute running time, it didn’t feel particularly bloated or inclusive of superfluous material. The extended time meant the film was able to develop the central relationship and flesh out the protagonists’ characters realistically. The hamminess and simplicity of the plot itself was countered by the fun of self-insertion into the narrative. (What faction would I be in? What would my fear landscape look like?) The charisma of, and chemistry between, the two leads really anchored the film and more than made up for the unremarkable story and the vaguely tedious climax. Shailene Woodley proved her acting chops in “The Descendants” a couple of years ago and she proves them again here as the Abnegation-turned-Dauntless sixteen year old Tris Prior. She manages to deliver some fairly cheesy lines with a straight face (which is more than can be said for the cast of “Twilight”) and, like Jennifer Lawrence, is able to convey conflicting emotions and thoughts, described in detail using the first person narrative in the source material, with just a facial expression. I wasn’t sure about Theo James as the semi-Byronic Four when I first heard the casting news but he turned out to be more than a match for Woodley. Just look at the angst and intensity!

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“Divergent” is definitely flawed and, superficial comparisons aside (strong female lead, dystopian setting), it’s definitely no “The Hunger Games”. It is, however, a highly gratifying experience if you try not to compare it to anything that’s come before it. Masquerading as an action piece, it’s effectively a straightforward and slightly hokey romance and coming-of-age story centered around a futuristic sorting hat. And I’m looking forward to the next helping in March 2015.

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