The Jennifer Lawrence Games
By Bert Ehrmann
April 1, 2011
For the last few months, movie websites have been abuzz as to which actress would be cast as the lead in the adaptation of the book The Hunger Games. In the trilogy of books, the lead character of Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old girl and there was a lot of speculation that the role would go to either Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) or Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass) as each actress is roughly that age at 14 and roughly fits the overall character descriptions in the book.
Except that a few weeks back actress Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) who's a bit older than the character at 20 landed the role of Katniss.
The Hunger Games is set sometime in the future when the United States is no more and has instead been replaced by 13 "districts," each ruled by the "Capitol." The Capitol rules these districts with an iron fist with mistreatment and malnourishment being common and each district ends up servicing the needs of the Capitol in some way — be it with providing energy, food, luxury goods, etc. Sometime in the past these districts rebelled against the Capitol but lost and, as punishment, one of the districts was completely destroyed and the rest have to submit to "The Hunger Games."
These games are a sort of gladiatorial sport played out by two "tributes," 24 in all, from each of the surviving districts. These tributes, aged between 12 and 18, must battle each other to the death with the lone survivor getting to live out the rest of their lives in luxury.
In the series, Katniss takes the place of her 12 year old sister in the games essentially saving her life. The first book follows Katniss and fellow tribute Peeta, their trip to the Capitol and their participation in The Hunger Games.
I just recently finished the three The Hunger Games novels so the character of Katniss is fresh in my mind and I find I'm conflicted over the casting of Lawrence in the movie.
Why Jennifer Lawrence is the PERFECT choice to play Katniss Everdeen.
Jennifer Lawrence hasn't acted in many movies but has so far earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Winter's Bone -- which is saying a lot as she's just 20 years old with a whole career ahead of her.
And who cares about the actual age of the actor playing a character on-screen? Lawrence might be 20 but surly she can play 16. Dustin Hoffman was nearly 30 when he played "just out of college" Ben Braddock in The Graduate and Michael J. Fox was in hismid-20s when he was 17 year old Marty McFly in Back to the Future. And I don't ever remember hearing anyone complain about Hoffman not looking young enough or Fox not being able to pull off being a teen.
Why Jennifer Lawrence is a BAD choice to play Katniss Everdeen.
The real problem with Lawrence isn't her acting chops, the problem is that the idea that Katniss and fellow tributes aren't yet adults is central to the overall theme of the books. And while Lawrence isn't exactly old at 20, I'm not sure she has the same body type and poise as someone like a real 16 year old would have.
In the books, it's wrenching to know that someone as young as Katniss, and sometimes younger, is being forced to hunt and kill equally young tributes in the games. And, even worse, that this is all seen as a sort of cultural past-time by the citizens of the Capitol who view the tributes with a mix of honor and contempt.
With Lawrence, who looks young but is not nearly as youthful as either Steinfeld or Moretz, and conceivably equally older actors playing the tributes, I'm not sure this all plays out with the same sort of punch. And what is The Hunger Games without "punch" other than something akin to (ick!) Twilight?
I honestly hope I'm wrong about Jennifer Lawrence and pray that she'll be able to pull Katniss off, the story of The Hunger Games deserves it. All three of The Hunger Games books are currently available and the movie adaptation of the first book is due in theaters March 2012.