The first fifteen minutes of the new record-breaking smash The Hunger Games set in an Appalachian coal mining district are terrific, like stepping into one of Dorothea Lange’s Depression photos, where people in poverty are seen with dignity and integrity, yet the futuristic movie also mixes in overtones of Blade Runner and 1984, and Shirley Jackson’s classic story "The Lottery." When our heroine Katniss (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) volunteers to replace her younger sister in the nation’s annual televised teen survivalist deathmatch, the action moves to the city, and it leaves behind two of its greatest assets, the more important of which is nuance.
Suddenly hamfisted, the movie pounds home the point that the capital and the media are run by wicked queens wearing outrageous colors and braying like buffoons; in short, fabulous is evil. The audience knows it’s wrong because the good, drab people back home are starving and here the gluttons wear glitter. These scenes mock the shallowness of “style,” the ridiculousness of “design,” the stupidity of “sophistication.”
One exception to this is, of all people, the stylist, Cinna. I’m told in the books he is clearly gay. In the movie he is clearly Lenny Kravitz. His natural warmth is a very welcome respite from the shrill immortality of the aging glamour guys Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones. Happily, the bulk of the movie is spent efficiently if predictably in the woods watching the countdown to the inevitable winner. Not to flaunt my own butch Alaskan backcountry cred, but clearly the Hollywood suits didn’t bother to hire a naturalist. We’re warned that as many teens die of “exposure” as from being killed by their competitors. Given the movie’s ideal conditions in a temperate climate, this threat is about as realistic as opera singers shattering glasses with high notes or loud noises triggering avalanches.
If you like escapist entertainment, go see The Hunger Games. It’s important to upend the lie that boys won’t go see movies about girls. And it’s nice that out lesbian producer Nina Jacobson, fired by Disney, is enjoying a gigantic hit. It would be even nicer if she and Suzanne Collins (credited as one of three screenwriters) kept/ included some overtly queer-positive content. But lesbians have kickass Katniss, and gay men have the other great asset left behind in her hometown, Liam Hemsworth, Thor’s hotter brother, as well as a buff blond named Cato.
For readers who somehow missed the massive popularity of the trilogy: Last week Suzanne Collins became Kindle’s all-time best-selling author.