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'Divergent' conforms to the young-adult playbook, reviews say

EntertainmentMoviesLiteratureDivergent (movie)Arts and CultureFictionShailene Woodley

The new movie "Divergent" stars Shailene Woodley as a brave young woman who challenges the rigid social order of her dystopian society, in which people are categorized into factions based on their personality types.

Many film reviewers, however, are saying that for a story all about daring to be different, "Divergent" hews closely to the conventions of its young-adult genre.

"Divergent," like the blockbuster "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" films, is based on a popular book series, in this case by Veronica Roth. As The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "the hottest phenomenon in publishing these days is young adult fiction about risk takers who dare to go their own way. So it's more than a little ironic, if predictable, that films made from these books are completely risk aversive."

PROFILE: Shailene Woodley embraces being divergent

Turan adds, "When you start with the story of a girl worried about not belonging who discovers that only the best people don't fit in, mix it with the twists and turns of a 'is that cute guy really looking at me' high school romance and set it against the backdrop of a world in peril, you've really hit the pop culture jackpot."

USA Today's Claudia Puig similarly writes, "'Divergent' covers well-trod turf that brings to mind 'The Hunger Games,' 'The Matrix' and a slew of other post-apocalyptic tales. Ironically for a film about non-conformity, it adheres to the playbook rather slavishly."

Puig adds that Woodley and co-star Theo James "have substantial chemistry," but "despite two strong lead performances and a welcome dose of female empowerment, this somber tale feels too familiar and formulaic."

Carla Meyer of the Sacramento Bee says that "originality and this film are strangers to each other." She continues: "Who are we kidding? This film exists because of 'Hunger Games' ' success. Roth's book and this movie touch on the same ideas of self-determination and finding one's self through extenuating circumstances that 'Games' does. Then it adds a dash of 'Twilight' with a brooding, mysterious figure [James] who takes a shine to the heroine."

"But 'Twilight' offered a one-of-a-kind moony romanticism impossible to re-create in a dystopian setting, and 'Games' brings a sociopolitical resonance (1-percenters pitting the other 99 percent against each other for sport) that 'Divergent' lacks."

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The Boston Globe's Ty Burr says, "'Divergent' is almost good enough to make you forget what a cynical exercise it is on every possible level." It's also "an improvement on the novel for much of its overlong running time, because [director Neil] Burger and his team spackle over the novel's implausibilities, change the bits that need to be changed, and generally create a tighter, more believable fantasy future."

But, Burr adds, "there's not much Burger can do, unfortunately, with the film's overwrought final act."

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal calls "Divergent" "as dauntingly dumb as it is dauntingly long."

The movie, he says, "is not only a waste of time for anyone safely out of adolescence, but a waste of Ms. Woodley's special gifts. She's a lovely actress, given the sort of good material she got, and elevated memorably, in 'The Descendants' and 'The Spectacular Now.' In the unavoidable now, however, she'll be constantly compared to Jennifer Lawrence — they're almost the same age — because of this new film's surface similarities to 'The Hunger Games.'"

And Manohla Dargis of the New York Times says that while it's "easy to breeze past the plot holes" in Roth's book, "It's harder to ignore those flaws in the movie, partly because [Burger] gives you little to hang on to — beauty, thrills, a visual style. The script, or what's left of it, doesn't help, because someone … has made the familiar blunder of thinking that the most important thing in adapting a book to the screen is the stuff that happens rather than to whom it happens."

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