Pretty Girl Makes Graves
“In a world… where TRIPODS have become obsolete… and SHAKY CLOSEUPS ruled the land… TWO ATTRACTIVE ACTORS did stuff and blah blah blah TWILIGHT.”
Okay, so that’s not exactly the plot, but close enough. 70-some years ago, in some vaguely-defined dystopian future, the “districts” rebelled against the “Capitol,” and every year since, one boy and one girl from each district are chosen to FIGHT TO THE DEATH in the Capitol because Running Man. But first, they must undergo a vaguely-sexual, co-ed boot camp because Starship Troopers, where they learn that winning the audience is just as important as fighting, because Gladiator. This is known as “The Hunger Games.”
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, where she divides her time between daydreaming about escaping a vaguely defined “they” with her boyfriend, and hunting in the forbidden forest with her bow. She seems to be the head of the household, as her dad’s dead, her mom’s catatonic, and her useless crybaby sister does nothing but cry. Primrose has just turned 12, the first year she’ll be eligible for The Hunger Games lottery, and she’s convinced that she’ll be picked. Katniss gives her a charm, a “mocking J pin,” whose importance seems to have gotten lost somewhere between the book and movie, telling her that as long as she holds onto it, “nothing bad can happen.”
The next day, District 12’s teenagers assemble in the town square for “the reaping,” where emcee Elizabeth Banks shows up looking like a fop from revolutionary France.
She draws the first name, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Prim. DAMN YOU, COSMICALLY SADISTIC PRE-ORDAINED RANDOM LOTTERY! Katniss volunteers to go in her place, knowing her useless crybaby of a sister would probably just cry some more until she died. As Katniss is being led away, Prim gives her the pin back, even though any rational person would’ve conclude that that thing was f*cking cursed by now. Fop lady chooses District 12’s boy — Peeta Mellark (no, not “Peter,” all the boys have girl names in the future), a human Spielberg face whose only skill seems to be luring flies with his constantly-open mouth.
The hard-scrabble district dwellers condemned to Russian Roulette are first treated like celebrities, transported to the Capitol via bullet train, feted with their favorite food, and put up in swanky rooms (this is the one semi-interesting wrinkle Hunger Games adds to the condemned-fight-to-the-death plot borrowed from so many other sources). It’s like American Idol meets all those other movies I already said.
Reaching the Capitol, everyone is super rich and gay and looks like Perez Hilton, and it’s there that they meet FUTUREBEARD.
But first, they have to get makeovers from Lenny Kravitz, who must know fashion because he’s wearing gold eyeliner. We’re told that it’s very important that the contestants win sponsors (SPOILER ALERT: it turns out not to be that important) and Lenny Kravitz says he’s got just the plan to make District 12 stand out: a flaming chariot for the entrance ceremony. The flaming audience loves it, dubbing Katniss “The Girl on Fire.” She keeps it real on Stanley Tucci’s talk show, shoots an apple out of a pig’s mouth at FUTUREBEARD’S dinner party, and pretty soon she’s the odds-on favorite and everyone loves her. Meanwhile, Peeta displays exactly two skills besides mouth breathing: super strength (which is hilarious because he’s 140 pounds), which he developed throwing sacks of flour at THE BAKERY, and the ability to, um… paint his arm so that it looks like a tree. “I used to decorate cakes at THE BAKERY!” he says. (I promise it doesn’t make sense in the movie either).
Just when it looks like this shaky bore of a movie might be groping towards some kind of point (URBAN HIPSTERS! RURAL RUBES! REALITY TV!), the games start. All you need to know about the games is this: cute black kids = friends. White kids with spiky hair = bad guys.
Also, Josh Hutcherson disguises himself as a rock, because OF COURSE he’s a master of disguise, he used to decorate cakes at THE BAKERY, remember? Soon, Katniss and Mouth-Breather get caught up in a whirlwind romance when it’s decided at the last minute that this movie needs a romance. Katniss sparks a mini-rebellion in one of the districts (because of her compassion? I guess?), which really pisses off FUTUREBEARD, and finally, the Games culminate in a blurry, chopped-up fight sequence where everything happens off camera. Hey, Gary Ross, if you’re not going to show me anything, why don’t I just fast-forward to the end and you tell me what happened?
The film basically ends with all these partially-developed storylines still to be determined, giving you the vague sense that perhaps there was a point, but that you’ll have to watch the next film to find out what it was. You mean I just sat through two hours of shaky blandness with no payoff? I CAN’T WAIT TO DO THIS AGAIN!
This is supposedly “better than Twilight,” and to the extent that the actors are better (Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic, no one’s arguing that), the characters negligably more likable, and the story less ridiculous, that’s true. But here’s the thing: for all her naivete, weird Mormon sexual hang-ups and third-grade writing ability, Stephenie Meyer at least had an earnest idea. There was a story she got wrapped up in before there was ever the promise of making money. The Hunger Games feels like a transparent money-making scheme where the driving force of the narrative is “well this is what the kids like, right?” Nothing wrong with making money, but there’s a big difference between writing for yourself and writing to please some fuzzy composite of a teenager. (I CALL IT ‘THE LITTLE SKATEBOARD WHO TWEETED!’)
I’ll take uniquely stupid over slick and bland any day. And for God’s sake, buy a goddamned tripod.
Isn’t that right, Lenny Kravitz?
Listen to Lenny Kravitz. He’s a cool dude.