I'm not ashamed to admit that I have read and loved books, particularly young-adult books, about vampires, witches, werewolves, fairies, angels, demons and zombies. Those genre books aren't usually what I'm drawn to, but a compelling story is a compelling story, just like a good movie is a good movie -- regardless of genre. Unfortunately, Hollywood keeps focusing so much of its attention on genre young adult franchises (especially those that don't end up delivering at the box office) that the wonderful realistic novels that are being adapted keep falling under the radar. I hope that's about to change this weekend with the release of "The Fault in Our Stars."
The adaptation of John Green's heart-wrenching love story about two teens with cancer has a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it looks like a lock for a No. 1 opening weekend. Other page-to-screen translations of realistic coming-of-age fiction have also been critically acclaimed: "Perks of Being a Wallflower" had an 85% critics' average on RT, and "The Spectacular Now" had an even more impressive 93% -- and both films ended up on critics' top-ten lists for 2012 and 2013. So why is it that despite the accolades, audiences aren't flocking to these films? Why aren't more of these contemporary novels making their way onto the big screen the way so many of the paranormal and dystopian stories do? These stories are cheaper to make and provide young actors with a real opportunity to act without all of the splashy special effects and computer-generated battle sequences.
I do adore "The Hunger Games" books and films and hope "Insurgent" follows in "Catching Fire's" footsteps by being an even better adaptation than "Divergent." But I still think it's a shame that that the box office for the excellent "Spectacular Now" and "Perks" is a paltry $25 million (combined!) when "Divergent" alone made $242 million worldwide. Adaptations based on realistic young-adult books deserve just as much attention as their fantasy/paranormal/dystopia cousins -- especially when they're well made and beautifully acted and critically beloved.
Studios would be better off looking closer at these books and then actually promoting them like Fox did with "The Fault in Our Stars," rather than trying so hard to secure the next multi-pic "Hunger Games"/"Harry Potter"/"Twilight" franchise. Yes, there are some fabulous, un-put-down-able trilogies and series starters currently awaiting adaptation ("The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey; "Legend" by Marie Lu; "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo; "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor -- to name just four out of dozens). All of those have the potential of being both critical and commercial successes, and I can't wait to see Cassie kick alien-invader ass; June pursue Day like a single-minded Javert; Alina fall under the spell of the Darkling; and blue-haired Karou find her destiny with angel Akiva -- but there are also many stand-alone realistic novels that are every bit as gripping and moving and worthwhile.
If you read, see, and love "The Fault in Our Stars," here a few upcoming book adaptations that are also without any supernatural phenomena. Pay attention to these, read them, go see them, and send Hollywood a message that authentic stories about teens coming of age are just as important as ones about sexy vampires, wise-cracking werewolves, and hot fallen angels.
1."If I Stay" by Gayle Forman hits theaters Aug.29, starring Chloe Moretz and Jamie Blakely. Mia Hall has it all: she's a Juilliard-bound cello prodigy from Portland with cool hipster parents, an adoring little brother and possibly the best boyfriend in all of YA literature, singer-songwriter Adam. When Mia's family is in a horrific car accident, she has an out-of-body experience. Now an orphan on the brink of death, her soul must choose whether to pass on or fight to live.
2. "Paper Towns" by John Green is in development for a 2015 release with Nat Wolff (who plays Isaac in "The Fault in Our Stars") attached as the lead. Considering it has the same screenwriters and producers as "FIOS," we expect great things. Quentin (Wolff) has loved his cool, gorgeous neighbor Margo for years, so when she mysteriously disappears toward the end of their senior year, he'll stop at nothing to figure out where she went.
3. "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell is being adapted by the author herself, and should start shooting in 2015. An epic '80s romance about two Nebraska misfits (an eccentric curvy red head and a half-Korean comics-and-New Wave aficionado) who meet and fall in love while sitting next to each other on the school bus, "Eleanor & Park" is chock-full of pop-culture references that should appeal as much to Gen-Xers as Rowell's huge following of teen readers.
4. "The DUFF" by Kody Keplinger has already cast Mae Whitman ("Parenthood") and Bella Thorne ("Blended") for an adaptation that should get a 2015 release. D.U.F.F. stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend" and follows the wickedly funny and smart Bianca (Whitman) as she figures out how to shed herself of the moniker once the hottest guy in school refers to her that way.
5. "When You Were Mine" by Rebecca Serle is also being adapted by the dynamic screenwriting duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Retitled "Rosaline," the story is a modernized retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" from the perspective of the girl Romeo crushed on before Juliet struck his fancy and they fell crazy in love for each other. Shawn Levy is attached as producer.
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EXCLUSIVE: Watch a scene from "The Fault In Our Stars"