My thoughts: This morning, Entertainment Weekly posted an interview with Gary Ross, the film's director, calling it the easiest casting decision of his life. He responds to critics who think she's too old (Lawrence will turn 21 in August; Katniss is 16 in the first book):
"First of all I talked to Suzanne extensively about this. Suzanne saw every single audition. And not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen’s age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss. This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can’t have an insubstantial person play her, and we can’t have someone who’s too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young. In Suzanne’s mind, and in mine, Katniss is not a young girl. It’s important for her to be a young woman. She’s a maternal figure in her family. She’s had to take care of Prim and in many ways her mother since her father’s death. She’s had to grow up pretty quick."Here's why they're both wrong: the power of this book is in the age of Katniss. The Hunger Games are so terrifying because the contestants are between 12 and 18. Seeing actual teenagers fight to the death is very different than seeing people in their early twenties. It's the difference between the gritty rawness of Degrassi versus the equally entertaining but often less compelling Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill (shows I watch and love). When I watch Degrassi (the original Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, or early seasons of Degrassi: the Next Generation), I constantly think, "but they're so young." A similar phenomenon continuously compels me to watch 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom 2. Seeing teenagers face adversity (sometimes overcoming it and sometimes failing miserably) is harrowing. Seeing adults pretend to be teenagers is entertaining.
|(Gary Ross & Jennifer Lawrence)|
Image Credit: Albert L. Ortega/PR Photos;
I don't doubt that Lawrence will be good in the role; she gave a powerful performance of a 17-year-old character in Winter's Bone, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. The critical distinction: her performance was strong, but I didn't realize she was supposed to be seventeen until the middle of the film. In many ways, her character was similar to Katniss. She was a maternal (and arguably paternal) figure to her younger siblings. She hunted their food. She lived in a life and death world. She was strong, brave and somewhat heroic.
I don't care that her physical description is so different than how Katniss was described. I don't think her hair color matters. I do, however, think her age does.
The verdict: The age of Katniss is an undeniable part of The Hunger Games, and I worry the film just lost some of its authenticity and power. I was rooting for Hailee Steinfeld, who is only 14. She was unbelievably convincing in True Grit, and she can believably play a 16-year-old. The films will still make money. They will still introduces millions to the books. They will still be entertaining. They simply won't be the films I hoped they would because they won't really be about teenagers anymore.
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