Hunger Games Catching Fire: the Marketing of a Girl

Catching Fire picks up a few months after the Hunger Games left off. Katniss and Peeta have arrived home to District 12 and now live in elegant digs compared to what they had before taking part in the Hunger Games. Peeta’s sulky because the romance he dreams of with Katniss has not taken place offscreen, and Katniss is suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. President Snow, the creepy and elegant Donald Sutherland, visits Katniss right before her Victory Tour, telling her she has to sell this romance and make it believable. Signs of dissent have spread throughout the Capitol and surrounding districts, and Snow is even seeing the results in his own household, when his granddaughter (Erica Bierman) appears at the breakfast table in Katniss’s trademark braids, telling him, “All the girls wear their hair like this.” This girl from District 12 has become a symbol of something he doesn’t want, but everybody else likes, even loves, her.

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For going against the rules and inspiring others to question their drudge of a life, Katniss must be punished. And Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is a gem here, as she pretends to be a bad actress while on the Victory Tour, all hammy, SNL skit-like with eyelash batting and fake smiles, alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). President Snow is not pleased with the results, and with Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he decides she must be eliminated. The Quarter Quell is upon them, a special edition of the Hunger Games that comes about every twenty-five years, and the twist this year is to reap past Hunger Game winners from each district and make them repeat the games with the best of the best.

I found this installment of the movie much more emotional than the first, now that the main characters have been established and people have gotten over their Fatniss fixation. There were so many times I felt my heart in my throat, especially in the scenes with Katniss and Peeta showing real love for each other, in contrast to what they faked during the Victory Tour. Though Katniss doesn’t have the love connection with Peeta that she does with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), he is the only person who understands what happened to her during the Hunger Games. And he loves her desperately, though she doesn’t understand why.

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There are very few changes between the book Catching Fire and the movie, and most are those of omission. Peeta tries to save Katniss from entering the arena again by dropping a baby bomb, which isn’t described as such in the novel but the term is adopted in the movie, and I like how parallels are drawn between our celebrity-driven culture and these bloody games. A baby bump becomes a complete game changer, and while Katniss cannot avoid the Quarter Quell, she’s able to manipulate the sympathies of viewers and possible sponsors.

The omissions, I think, help heighten the tension, so viewers aren’t bored and easily able to figure out what’s going to happen in the end. And maybe that’s good for those who have read the trilogy as background before going in to the movie, but I watched it with two who had not read the books, and they both felt like they were missing important information. Then I watched Catching Fire again with my nine-year-old niece when I was visiting for Christmas, and she needed information to process what was going on on-screen. I answered her questions in whispers, trying not to piss off the people in back of us, and when she got it, her face lit up with pure pleasure, enjoying the story of tough ladies and guys trying to make it out alive.

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Afterward, she wanted to play Hunger Games, using characters from the movie Catching Fire. She didn’t want to be Katniss, who she deemed too nice. Instead, she invented her own character Catty, who had Katniss-like traits with a little bit of Johanna mean. Johanna’s mean streak intrigued her (a standout performance by Jena Malone), but my niece didn’t feel like she could act out those parts so I was assigned her character. It made me happy that instead of one girl part, my niece had several female roles to choose from—a healer, a genius, a warrior, etc.—to see what fit her personality.

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Our playacting brought to mind one of the press junkets the Hunger Games cast did for the first movie. One of the questions given was which character would the other actors liked to have been, and Jennifer Lawrence mentioned how nobody ever chooses Katniss. I think it’s because we already envision ourselves as a Katniss, a hero who is brave and loyal, but we would like to try on brutishness or vulnerability, traits that aren’t usually interpreted as heroic.

Silver Linings Playbook Is Excelsior!

Manic depression runs in my family, so I was curious to see Silver Linings Playbook, which has a bipolar protagonist. For a long time people didn’t know what manic depression/bipolar disorder was—my mom says they just always called it “the family illness” when she was a kid. But now mental health professionals do and there are a lot more civilized treatments for it—drug therapies that really work—rather than institutions, shock treatments, and lobotomies. Bipolars can be the most fun, charismatic people that you will ever meet, but if they are going through one of their manic/depressive phases, the other people around them can feel like they’ve been hit by a train, even starting to question their own sanity—Am I going crazy, or…?

Watching the first part of the movie Silver Linings Playbook, I was very uncomfortable because it follows the main character Pat going through a manic phase, and I guess it just hit too close to home. The movie opens with Pat (Bradley Cooper) repeating his mantra to himself, “Excelsior!” He’s locked up in a mental institution after experiencing a psychotic break. Eight months earlier, Pat had come home from his teaching job to find his wife exchanging sexual favors in the shower with another teacher, who Pat then proceeded to beat the shit out of, almost killing him. The courts gave him two choices: psych unit or jail.

Pat’s mother decides to spring him for the holidays, without consulting anybody else, and once Pat is home, it’s easy to see where the bipolar gene comes from. His dad, also named Pat (Robert De Niro), has to be dancing on the edge of the illness. He’s obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has little rituals associated with the team such as holding onto an Eagles handkerchief and assigning “lucky” people to hold the remote control while a game is playing. He’s also convinced that Pat Jr. has serious magic and is constantly trying to get his son to watch games with him, assured that if he is there, his team will win.

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Pat is trying to get his life together while back home with his parents, but his unmedicated mania keeps getting the cops called to the house. His wife has a restraining order against him, but Pat has made her into his holy grail. His obsessions all turn toward winning her back, which is a bit difficult when he has to always maintain a distance of five hundred feet. Leave it to a manic depressive to find a way, though.

In his quest to get his wife back, Pat sets up a dinner date with an old friend and his wife Veronica, where he’s introduced to Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has her own issues. They immediately bond over the meds they’ve been on and their side effects, and it’s hilarious watching this play out over the dinner table, where the normals are the ones left feeling weird and left out while the loonies laugh it up.

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This dinner scene also marks the turning point in the movie—shortly after, Pat starts taking his meds. He’s been resisting for so long because he says the drugs make him foggy and not sharp. But he can’t be arrested again if he wants to get back together with his wife. Also, Tiffany had offered to help reunite them if Pat will do one little favor for her, and he takes the bait. The relationship between these two not-quite-right people, Tiffany and Pat, make up the rest of the movie, and that’s what makes it shine.

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Cooper does fine as Pat, and I think he gives a realistic portrayal of a bipolar, based on the many I have known. I could feel my teeth grinding as he went on some of his rants in his early unmedicated state, but then rooted for him when he tried to restrain his unsavory impulses. The movie gets a little tense at times, but fellow mental patient Danny (Chris Tucker) makes well-timed appearances throughout, moving the story forward and bringing good comedy.

The real heart of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. When she comes on, the scenes just have a more realistic, authentic dimension to them—she has a Streepish quality to her acting and presents a character with so many facets to her personality, showing vulnerability, sexiness, a tendency toward self-destruction, and great comedic instincts. There’s one scene—probably the one that an audience at the Cannes Film Festival rose and gave a spontaneous ovation to—where she interrupts Pat’s family arguing during what looks to be their downfall. The outcome looks bleak, but by the time Tiffany is done, she gets what she wants, as well as taking a crazy scheme and making it even more bizarre, all while making the family love her. And the audience too. That’s some pretty genius acting and somewhat bipolar, I think.

Jennifer Lawrence Rocks House at the End of the Street

My friend’s daughter was staying the weekend with me, and since there are a few horror movies in the theater right now (with more to come in preparation for Halloween—whee, I love this time of year!), we decided to do a horror movie weekend. First up was House at the End of the Street, and my fifteen-year-old charge met me at the Park Slope Pavilion, our favorite shabby-chic theater, with her friend. We fed a friend’s cat that I’m cat sitting (the Halloween-colored Bellatrix), and then went to have a little Thai food, where we told each other ghost stories before the movie. Valerie’s friend lives in a house in Brooklyn that’s been in her family for generations and a few family members have actually died there, so there have been some sightings of great-grandma and others.

Once we were properly in the mood and with twelve minutes to spare, we ran to the theater and got our seats just in time for the movie. It took me a little while to get into House at the End of the Street. There’s a murder where a husband and wife are taken out by their daughter, which frees up the glorious house next door for Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her mother (Elisabeth Shue) to move into. I really liked the casting for the mother-daughter pair—I don’t think I’ve been this happy about a casting decision since Teri Garr was cast as Phoebe’s mother on Friends—but I wish there had been more depth to their characters.

Mother and daughter have been led to believe that the house where the murders happened is abandoned, but they soon learn otherwise at a neighborhood barbecue where everybody bitches about the long-lost son, who has returned to fix up the house and resell it, because he’s driving down the value of their homes. Of course, this is the reason that Elissa and her mother are able to live in their house in the first place, so they can’t complain.

Elissa’s introduced to the perfect neighborhood boy, but later at school when he invites her to a social gathering, she finds out he’s a brat and flees. Elissa is picked up by the next-door neighbor, the son of the murdered parents who everybody else hates, and after that meeting the two form a friendship.

The best thing about House at the End of the Street is Jennifer Lawrence as Elissa. It was satisfying to sit in the movie theater next to two teenage girls and see a worthy role model on-screen for them. Elissa plays guitar and sings, and when slimy kids come on to her or tease her, she doesn’t cave into peer pressure and sometimes even fights back with her fists. Stranded on a dark road with a menacing car passing by, she pulls out her cell phone and dials, being a smart girl. Later in the story, horror movie clichés dumb down her character, but Lawrence still comes off as steely. And at this point in her career, I wouldn’t expect anything less. After playing Ree in Winter’s Bone, Mystique in X-Men, and Katniss in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence is always going to be the epitome of tough girl for me.

There’s a good twist in the movie that I didn’t see coming, but the ending turns into one of those long, drawn-out climaxes that I’ve seen repeated quite a few times. I’m confident the main character won’t be killed, so I’m just sitting there, feeling ho-hum, until everybody calms down and the enemy is vanquished. The best part of these average horror movies is when the audience’s reactions are out of proportion to what’s on-screen. I think the screaming, the comments of “No, don’t do that; don’t go down there,” and being in a dark movie theater while this is going on makes viewing the movie a richer experience. The audience is always a crucial factor for me when going to see a horror movie.

After the movie, the two girls talked about how they liked it but weren’t really scared, and we climbed on the bus to go home. We sent Valerie’s friend home with instructions to call when she got there so we would know that she hadn’t been chloroformed and kidnapped, and then Valerie and I walked home, talking about important things, like how would you react in a life-or-death situation? Would you be able to do what needs to be done or would you shut down, whimper and curl into a ball, waiting for the murderer to get you? We made fun of the girl going down into the dark, creepy basement, but Valerie said she realized that it had to be done to advance the plot. Maybe this next generation of horror writers will be able to find a more creative way to get the protagonist into the basement or change the location of where the horror is hidden altogether.