“The Hunger Games” review: The odds are ever in Jennifer Lawrence’s favor

 
 

One of life’s greatest pleasures is queuing up with a gaggle of other nerds, who, like you, loved a book so much they can’t wait to see if the movie is just as good. While waiting for the midnight showing of The Hunger Games last night, a brawl broke out in my line, a brawl over which of the book’s leading men belong with the book’s leading lady, a brawl that felt like a physical manifestation of all my film adaptation fears. The Hunger Games is the story of a female warrior, and I was convinced Lionsgate was going to piggy-back off of Twilight and parse it down into a love triangle trilogy.

Boy, was I wrong.

If you haven’t yet read Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, welcome home from Jupiter. The book — and its follow-ups Catching Fire and Mockingjay — have sold an estimated 50-gadrillion copies in over 38 countries and moon colonies. The series revolves around 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl who is clumsy at love, but agile with a bow and arrow. Katniss lives in the dystopian Panem, a nation that is split into 12 districts, each of which must send one guy and one gal to the Capitol each year to participate in a televised gladiator battle. That’s 24 teenagers, armed to the teeth, with no choice but to slash and hack at each other until only one person is left standing.

To its credit, the movie doesn’t shy away from the bloodsport. Director Gary Ross pushes his PG-13 rating as far as it will go.

The film spends half its time in the forested arena of The Hunger Games, and half its time building up to the battle royale. In the first half, the adult supporting cast shines with their limited time on-screen. Lenny Kravitz‘s Cinna, Woody Harelson‘s Haymitch, and Elizabeth Banks‘ Effy Trinket — Katniss’ Capitol-appointed fashion consultant, coach, and chaperone, respectively — give us more than a glimpse at why they’re fan favorites.

But this movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. I don’t mean that Jennifer Lawrence does a pretty OK job of not messing up a beloved character, and that all those naysayers when she was first cast probably won’t have much to complain about. I mean that Jennifer Lawrence owns this movie. From the moment Katniss rushes forward to take her sister’s place at the Reaping (the event that chooses the Hunger Games contestants each year), the screen belongs to Lawrence. From loyal sister to reluctant celebrity to battle-tested hero, Lawrence is everything we could have hoped for in a Katniss Everdeen.

What about the love triangle? Oh, it’s there. Katniss’ childhood best friend Gale and Hunger Games partner Peeta are both wildly in love with her, and rightly so — but the movie never gives itself over to that narrative.

If The Hunger Games movie has one problem: It’s an almost slavic (but understandable!) faithfulness to the source material. In an effort to include every character from the story, the movie is unable to sustain the pacing punch of the book. But it’s a minor glitch in an otherwise superb adaptation.

Will you be seeing The Hunger Games?

 
 

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