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Jennifer Lawrence Outwits Outlasts Outplays in The Hunger Games

by Caryn James
March 22, 2012 8:49 AM
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The massive audience for The Hunger Games is easily split into two camps. There are fans of the books, who are likely to approve of the terrific Jennifer Lawrence while picking out all the details missing from Suzanne Collins’ novels. And there are people like me, blank slates about Collins’ tween-targeted series, for whom the film is a sleek, competent example of a big-budget, sure-fire commercial hit without much soul or style. And if you can’t get excited about characters in a televised fight to the death  - the premise that has Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, shooting arrows through a forest for survival – what can you get excited about?

District 12, the area Katniss represents in the games, is a poor coal-mining area in the futuristic country of Panem that resembles the landscape of Winter’s Bone, the little drama that made Lawrence’s career. Lawrence brings the same tough believability to this extreme fantasy. She makes Katniss tough and sensitive without being goody-goody. That alone is remarkable, because when her little sister is chosen in a lottery to compete, one of the sacrificial victims in the compulsory games which will leave only one person alive, Katniss volunteers in her place.

She leaves behind Gale (Liam Hemsworth) her sort-of boyfriend; she is paired in the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a boy who likes her. Neither guy is a vampire or a werewolf, but you get the idea. More than the center of this triangle, Lawrence is the film’s great strength as the games begin and she evades opponents who want to kill her, cameras trailing her everywhere, trying to retain her humanity in a kill or be killed situation.

But Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) is a director who doesn’t leave many fingerprints, which is probably what made him a safe choice for the franchise. The action keeps moving and the costumes are comically colorful. Elizabeth Banks looks like a refuge from Tim Burton’s Alice as Effie, Katniss’ pr handler. Stanley Tucci, as a smarmy TV host, has a bizarre blue pony-tail to match his suit. Woody Harrelson is great, as always, as Haymitch, the mentor who sobers up in time to give Katniss some valuable advice.

Still, a plot that relies so heavily on a timely social theme like reality television should have a lot more resonance than this movie does. I wouldn’t warn people away; the film’s success even may spur a better, riskier sequel (the way the third Harry Potter, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, soared above the earlier two). There isn’t anything wrong with The Hunger Games that some soul and style wouldn’t fix, but that kind of safety is not what anyone  - except the film’s investors  - might have hoped for.

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  • SimmerDownNow | December 29, 2012 6:12 AMReply

    Of course, of COURSE the moment someone has a differing opinion, all the fangirls and fanboys get their undies in a wad.
    Lawrence has starred in a handful of films to date and is still very new on the scene. Regardless of whether she's received praise so far, some people might feel that it's still too early to tell whether she is as versatile and multidimensional an actress as she's being touted. It's easy to use the "she's already been nominated for an Oscar and that therefore makes her legit" validation card. The true test will be whether or not she continues to impress. So let the minority have their views. It might end up that they were on to something all along.

  • Athena | May 5, 2012 5:30 PMReply are in the minority because Jennifer Lawrence has received a tremendous amount of praise from critics and fans alike. Lawrence has charisma and star power (especially considering that she shouldered The Hunger Games to a 600 million plus dollar success) to spare. Ronan is a good actress but there's absolutely no charisma or warmth....something that Lawrence has in spades.

  • penelope | April 1, 2012 4:53 AMReply

    Caryn, Jennifer Lawrence is highly overrated. She has very little depth as an actress- it is on full display in " X-Men First Class ( she was out of her league and out-acted by most of the cast ) " & "Hunger Games. " Plus, she has no charisma nor star power. Why didn't Gary Ross & Lionsgate hire the truly terrific , Saoirse Ronan , for this coveted role. Saoirse would have easily brought out the complexity , heart & soul, and the intelligence of the character.

  • astro | May 24, 2012 5:06 PM

    Wait! A hater expressing her bile on the internet? Lol. Lawrence is a heck of an actress and she nailed the part. But you can't please everyone, and that microscopic segment you can never please always feels the need to share their frustrations. Cheer up and focus on things you like as opposed to things you feel are overrated, such as Ronan. (Just kidding).

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