Film adaptations of young adult survival novels – how many more of these are we going to have to sit through? The Harry Potter films were more than eight films – they are a decade of childhood-defining magic. Fair enough, The Hunger Games films are highly beloved because of their impressive productions values and genuine heart. But now every single young adult novel featuring a teenaged underdog rising to become a hero seems to be getting the film treatment, and quite frankly I’m getting really bored of it. Nothing against the people involved, but this is turning into something ridiculous, as its a quick and easy buck to just spread these novels into a trilogy of films and get youngsters all excited. This trope has reached a new low with Divergent, an excruciatingly bland and boring film.
First of all, Shailene Woodley – I don’t think I can name an actress as bland as she is. She is clearly capitalizing on the “feisty young actress” model that Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone represent. The difference is they got to where they are today by choosing interesting roles. I don’t hate Woodley, but I find her choices painfully simple, and her performances in them are sadly pedestrian. In Divergent particularly, she shows absolutely no genuine emotion of range, always acting like the forlorn, conflicted underdog. There is absolutely no acting going on there, and it is sad because this role would be a goldmine for any young actress to show off her talent. I can’t decide if Woodley didn’t try, or she tried hard enough but was unsuitable for the role. She is probably the most unlikable protagonist of one of these YA adaptations, and that really disappoints me.
The casting of this film was really odd. I don’t know if whoever cast this thing was actually paying attention, as Woodley co-starred recently with both Ansel Elgort (in The Fault in Our Stars) and Miles Teller (in The Spectacular Now), and they both played her love interest in those films. However, in Divergent, Elgort plays her brother, and it just seems incredibly creepy to see them, in the same year, play brother/sister and boyfriend/girlfriend in two separate films. Teller plays the arrogant bully here, which allows him to give the only decent performance in the film, but unfortunately remove the little bit of chemistry the two built up in The Spectacular Now.Absolutely no one in this film has chemistry with anyone else, and to be honest, most of the performances ranged from painfully mediocre to plain terrible, and that goes for [Academy Award winner] Kate Winslet, who ends her streak of impressive film roles and trades it for an easy paycheck in this film in a role she was awfully miscast in.
I think we all have started to realize that there are trends and cliches in different genres, and Divergent does no favors in its journey to trying to be unique. There are cliches waiting around every corner in this film, waiting to rear their hideous heads. Wooden acting, an obvious romantic subplot, an underdog rising to the challenge of improving themselves, going from the worst in the group to the hero and of course the necessary reveal that the villain is the person we least expected. I had never read a single piece of plot of this film, yet every single plot point could be seen from a mile away. It is so boring when a film doesn’t respect their audience enough to actually try something interesting and different.
To worst part is there are two sequels coming, and this “franchise” will continue to make undeserved money. Post-apocalyptic young adult novel adaptations are the westerns of modern filmmaking – there are good ones and there are bad ones – but they’re a dime-a-dozen. My suggestion is that if you’re thinking of watching this movie, rather save your money and spend it on a film that actually respects its audience and actually makes an effort to entertain.