For years, John Green has authored young adult novels which have received widespread acclaim, not only from his audience of young readers, but from critics around the world. The author’s success has led to the adaptation of several of his stories on the big screen; in 2014, Green’s book about teenagers with cancer who fall in love was adapted into a feature film, and the following year, Paper Towns, a romantic mystery comedy-drama film based on the 2008 novel of the same name, found its way to movie theaters around the world. Both films were financial successes, with the former movie receiving generally positive reviews and the latter film receiving mixed reviews. Their success has led to renewed interest in adapting Green’s other works, including his first novel, the Printz Medal winner Looking for Alaska, which is about a burgeoning romance between two teenagers at a boarding school that ends in tragedy.
John Green sold the film rights to Paramount Pictures in 2005, just a year after the novel’s publication, with the belief that it would never be adapted into a film. Paramount had shelved the project for years, due to a lack of interest, but started looking more seriously at the prospect of adapting the novel after the success of the film version of The Fault in Our Stars. In 2015 Paramount commissioned a screenplay of the book, and had begun actively casting the film, but plans to produce the movie were canceled indefinitely. In 2018, it was announced that Hulu would be producing an 8-part miniseries based on the book, and John Green announced the lead cast, with Kristine Froseth playing Alaska and Charlie Plummer playing the book’s main character, Miles. Production of the series has been completed, and all eight episodes are set to premiere tomorrow, October 18, 2019, exclusively on the Hulu streaming platform.
Initial reviews of the miniseries, which were released today, are mostly positive. Caroline Framke of Variety thought that the miniseries “wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve,” as its precocious and pretentious cast of teenage characters rings true to the experience of life as a teenager, even if the characters’ superiority complexes start to grate on the viewer. Nevertheless, she praised the miniseries for fleshing out its secondary characters, even though she felt the series’ protagonist was uninteresting. Though she felt that the series’ depiction of Alaska hewed closely to tropes of the genre, as she represents a variation of the infamous “manic pixie dream girl” archetype, the show uses its eight-hour runtime to expand on her character enough to make viewers genuinely interested in her character.
Jordan Julian, of The Daily Beast, was even more laudatory, claiming that the series is even better than the book, and characterized the show as “beautiful and idealized, foreboding, and entirely relatable to anyone who recalls the intensity of being a teenager.” According to Julian, the show excels in a genre that’s “notoriously difficult to get right,” as she felt that the characters’ dialogue was “natural and self-aware,” and applauded the show for developing Alaska’s character beyond the male narrator’s interpretation featured in the book. Kristine Froseth, of Hollywood Reporter, also praised the series, though she felt that the series “struggles to crack the title character.” Like the other reviewers, Julian praised the series’ decision to keep the events set in 2005 rather than updating the timeline for a modern audience, as this decision both solves the problem of characters not engaging with cell phones and social media as well as invokes a sense of childhood nostalgia among the series’ adult audience, helping them to connect with the youthful mindsets of the cast.
Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone gave the show a similarly positive review, awarding it four out of five stars. Sepinwall thought the show gave Green’s characters “the respect they deserve,” as they are portrayed by a talented and charming cast of young actors. Not every reviewer, however, was so positive. Kevin Yeoman of Screen Rant complained that the miniseries failed to “escape its own artificiality,” arguing that the show came off as neither realistic nor significant. Yeoman felt that the characters were incompletely written, having a set of personality quirks rather than cohesive personalities.
You can watch the trailer for Looking for Alaska here.
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