A gentle approach when making an emotionally charged movie allows an audience time to connect with the characters and then be moved by events that happen to them.
"The Fault in Our Stars" takes a more forceful approach. From start to finish, it's a production that demands an emotional reaction. An unrelenting assault on the heart creates less of a sense of personal connection and more of a sigh of relief when it's all over. When you start at a high emotional level, there's no place to go but down.
The film, based on the young-adult genre book by John Green, immediately throws the viewer into the middle of a cancer support group. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is a reluctant participant as she's taken a very pragmatic look at the terrible health hand she's been dealt. Her interest in the group perks up when she meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), a wide-eyed optimist who refuses to let his health history slow him down.
There's an immediate bond, a symbiotic connection where Hazel trades some of her utilitarian approach for a bit of his idealism. It's the spark that sets the first fires for their young love.
Woodley is compelling as she gracefully slides between being afraid to allow anyone into her heart because of such an unpredictable future and giving in to the passions and exhilaration that comes with getting so close to Gus. She plays the role with just enough weakness to make her vulnerable but never to the point that there are doubts about her resilience as a fighter. Woodley is rapidly become one of the top forces in her acting generation.
It would have been easy to make her parents set dressing because the film's core theme is young love and death. But Laura Dern and Sam Trammell turn in spotless performances as parents who are trying to show strength for their daughter but obviously are being consumed from the inside because of potential loss.
Elgort, on the other hand, is a problem. He completely misses the mark, confusing smugness for confidence. He needed to supply energy for the young couple but instead creates such an unlikable character that his fate is not a matter for concern. And, in a movie like this, if such a major character fails to support the unrelenting emotional onslaught, the production dramatically suffers.
There are some very good moments, especially a powerful eulogy scene. But, fans of the book don't have any surprises that would help spark an emotional connection. Those who haven't read the book will be able to predict where the film is going long before it heads toward a sadly unfulfilling ending.
"The Fault in Our Stars" fails because it tries too hard. There's more potential for an emotional connection from a tug on the heart strings than a slap across the face.
"The Fault in Our Stars," rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations. Stars Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe. Directed by Josh Boone. Running time: 125 minutes. Grade: B-