The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is one of those weird books that started out as something else- while Birbiglia is a writer, he is probably best known as a stand-up comedian and an actor. He has had success in a variety of mediums, has authored multiple books, starred in films, and most recently, toured with the show this book is based upon, The New One. I was fortunate enough to see the show on its stop in Washington, DC, and it’s great to see in person, Like all of Birbiglia’s works, it is a deeply constructed, intensely intricate, uncomfortably intimate production. The book expands on those themes, featuring further stories and some poems by Birbiglia’s wife and writing partner, poet J. Hope Stein.
While I tend to distain further expansions of established works as money-grabs, The New One works on every level. Despite having watched the show once in person, and a second time when it became available on Netflix, the jokes still hit for me. Despite being familiar with the material, it still feels new, as it’s been refreshed by additional detail. The book is fundamentally about becoming a father, but doesn’t center fatherhood in the narrative of parenthood. Rather, Birbiglia centers his failure as a father, his failures to provide support, to connect with his wife and child, who have formed a unit. The book is about being a family, and how becoming a new kind of family is difficult. It is not just funny, like a lot of books by comedians, but Birbiglia’s work always has that undercurrent of existential dread, so that’s no surprise. The poems were occasionally quite profound, but the book would have benefited from truncating those sections a tad.
This book is well worth a read, especially if you’ve enjoy Mike Birbiglia’s other exploits. If you’re interested in The New One, you can view it on Netflix. The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad is also available wherever books are sold, or to check out from your local library. If you are buying it from Amazon, you can support us by using our affiliate link.
While I am certainly late to the cinematic party in terms of writing about The Fault in Our Stars movie adaptation, released to the general public more than a month ago, I HAVE A GOOD REASON.
I have been a nerdfighter since 2010, and I wanted to see the film with my oldest friend, the one who introduced me to the world of Nerdfightaria, the books of John Green, and Brotherhood 2.0. So, yesterday, Tuesday, July 15th, she and I went to go see the movie. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I had low expectations of the film initially. I love the book immensely. I own two copies of the book, one of which is a signed from the first printing, a button, and two tFiOS themed tee shirts. I have read the book at least five times, and I believe it to be frankly genius. I have not been impressed with many recent adaptations of books I’ve loved, and I was underwhelmed by the trailer, so I tried not to get too excited, though I did bring a plastic bag of tissues just in case.
Frankly, I was favorably impressed. The adaption was extremely faithful, taking whole passages from the novel without sounding like they were shoehorned in. Like the novel, it has a really poignant tonal quality, a sad, sardonic kind of humor. Book purists will be very pleased, most of the exchanges between Gus and Hazel are straight from the book, as are all of Van Houten’s and Isaac’s lines. The film is well-made, in some instances movies that heavily quote the books they are based on come across poorly, but tFiOS is an utter triumph.
The cast is a sweeping success, Laura Dern as Frannie Lancaster (Hazel’s mother) is a standout. In such a small cast, there are several big winners. Aside from Dern’s flawless performance, Mike Birbiligia (Patrick, support group leader) is delightful, Nat Wolff is perfect in all senses of the word, and Willem Dafoe is phenomenal. While underutilized in such a tight movie, Birbiglia’s scenes manage to convey a lot of importance for the cancer culture Green wrote about at length in the book. Willem Dafoe does not play the reclusive Peter Van Houtan, his is Van Houtan. Every mannerism, line and facial expression seems to spring straight from the book, he’s simply brilliant. Nat Wolff, recently confirmed to also be starring in an adaption of Green’s novel Paper Towns, is a breath of fresh air. The rapport between his character, Isaac, and Augustus is perfect, and, like Van Houten, most of his lines are also from the book. The scene depicting The Night of the Broken Trophies is a shining moment for Wolff. He is also, in this writer’s opinion, pretty darn cute. Honestly, in moments he was far more appealing than Augustus.
The performances of the two lead actors are overshadowed by the brilliance of the rest of the cast, but Augustus’s eyebrows deserve a film of their own. At times Gus does gets a bit irritating, his vanity and pretentiousness comes across a little more grating on film than on the page. Shailene Woodley looks right for Hazel, she has this girl next door look about her, in the way she talks and moves. Both Elgort and Woodley are aesthetically pleasing and have a great presence onscreen, and their love is magical. Their ability to transition from playing siblings (in another book to movie adaption, Divergent) to lovers is impressive.
As is to be expected, some things that were important in the book that were left out of the movie, including the humanization of Gus’ family. We barely see his mother and father, and his sisters and nephews are left out entirely. Though the movie does an impressive job showing us their story, it fails to grasp some of the complexities of the book. Green has spoken several times about how the book chronicles the journey from strength to weakness, and we do see Gus’ strength. We see Hazel struggle to keep up, but there is none of the book’s foreshadowing of his recurrence, and eight days (or infinity) before Gus dies, he looks much the same as before, though in a wheelchair. There is one really great scene, when he calls Hazel from the gas station, when Elgort really shows us Gus’ frustration, his hatred for his sickness. But we don’t see him look too sickly, and though Hazel promises not to sugar coat their love story, some parts are left out entirely. The relationship between Augustus and his dead ex-girlfriend Caroline is left out from the film, a story which really highlighted the realities of the disease.
The Anne Frank house scene, while meaningful, is not quite as touching as in the book, and also a bit weird. I know it’s a movie, but one simply does not clap when strangers, even disabled, beautiful strangers, make out. Even just watching other people kiss is weird. Also, strange French lady in the background, kissing in the Anne Frank house is not “cute.” I was talking to my friend about how that scene made us uncomfortable in the book, mostly because of the seriousness of the location. The Anne Frank house is essentially a Holocaust museum, and kissing at one of those would be considered a bit disrespectful. It just rubbed us the wrong way a bit. But we’re Jewish, and John Green is not, so we would obviously have different perspectives.
This movie further proves that the truth resists simplicity, as the movie is an impressive (and profitable) effort, receiving critical acclaim and raking in more than 237 million dollars, though it does not reach quite the brilliance of the book.
Green, Elgort, Wolff and Woodley did a series of very delightful interviews in anticipation of the film, which I would suggest you watch, purely because they are adorable and funny. There are some links below, as well as a link to the last post I did on John Green.