Veronica Roth's dystopian thriller "Divergent" s the latest YA best-seller to get the page-to-screen treatment. The movie chronicles life in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where society is broken into five segregated factions: the Abnegation (known for their selflessness) run the government, the Amity (known for their kindness), handle agriculture; the Candor (known for their honesty) run the justice system; the Dauntless (known for their bravery) are in charge of security; and the Erudite (known for their intelligence) are researchers, professors, and doctors. Academy Award nominee Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") stars as Tris Prior, an Abnegation-born teen who decides to join the Dauntless faction during a rite-of-passage choosing ceremony. Her choice immediately changes her life, as society believes in a "faction before blood" motto. But in order to prove herself worthy to fully join Dauntless, Tris must survive a vicious initiation while also figuring out her feelings for her mysterious instructor Four (Theo James) and keeping everyone from finding out she's "Divergent."
"Divergent" is rated PG-13 for its intense violence and action. Even if you have a precocious younger fan that read the books at 8, 9, or 10 (Ive seen it making its way among 3rd and 4th graders at my kids' elementary school), consider whether they're really ready to see the brutal Dauntless fights, the bullying, the suicide, the deaths of parents and friends, and the ultimate grief and sadness of the main character.
Of course, for mature tweens and teens who've already read the book and can't wait to see Tris transform from Abnegation to Dauntless to Divergent, this is one of Spring's must-see action thrillers.
1. Read It, Then See It: "Divergent" is the first in Veronica Roth's best-selling speculative fiction trilogy, and the first of a proposed series of adaptations (the second book, "Insurgent," already has a screenplay and director in place). There's enough voice-over and expository narration in the film in case you haven't read the book, but if you did (or do), you'll obviously know exactly what's happening, what's missing, and what's changed. Book fans will also spot Veronica Roth's blink-and-miss cameo. If you want to reward your kids for reading, definitely encourage them to read the fast-paced story before heading to the theater. It's such a quick and compelling read, most teen readers should be able to handle it in just a couple of sittings!
2. How does your kid handle violence in movies? This is a violent trilogy, but the movie, like with "The Hunger Games," is actually less violent than originally written on the page. From the moment Tris chooses to join the Dauntless faction, she's mired in a Spartan-like initiation process that's brutal and bloody. There's guy on girl sparring (serious, knock-out fights) in keeping with their unisex living quarters (reminiscent of the way the soldiers in "Battlestar Galactica" interact and box). The body count is higher than the first "Hunger Games" and includes characters close to the protagonist Tris. The violence includes references to child abuse, bullying, one act of suicide, mass killing of unarmed citizens, and soldiers being forced to kill people they love.
3. Do you worry about sex/language? Despite the PG-13 rating and the abundance of violence, there's not much sex or language (just a couple of uses of "s--t," "a--hole," and "bi--h"). As for the romance, there are mostly smoldering looks between Tris and Four, some charged/chaste touches and flirting scenes, and one passionate kiss -- actually less than there is the novel. Romance seekers will have to wait until "Insurgent" for the love story to heat up. Parents will be grateful that the two take it slow due to Tris' inexperience. Tris even says after stopping their epic kissing session: "I don't want to go too fast," and the gentlemanly Four is respectful and sleeps on the floor when she spends the night in their room.
4. Who will enjoy the movie most? Obviously the target audience is teens and all fans of Veronica Roth's book series. The question is whether interest in the futuristic thriller will cross over to adults who aren't familiar with the books. Any trilogy devotees will want to support the story they love and see if Woodley and James manage to capture the spirit of Tris and Four. Parents on the fence about whether to go with their teens should go ahead and accompany them. With a talented cast and relevant themes to discuss afterward, "Divergent" is good movie to see with your teens and then have a conversation about independence, sacrifice, and moral responsibility. Thanks to Ashley Judd's portrayal of Tris' mom, there's also a perfect conversation starter about how parents are much more complicated than their children may know or understand.
5. What are critics saying about "Divergent"? Critical reaction to the dystopian thriller swings from fairly positive to underwhelmed, with a "mixed" score of 52 on Metacritic and a "rotten" 25 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. " The strength of Burger's movie is the fact that a non-reader of Roth's work can enjoy Divergent and not be confused by any aspect of the storyline," writes Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says: "Woodley, through the delicate power of her acting, does something compelling: She shows you what a prickly, fearful, yet daring personality looks like when it's nestled deep within the kind of modest, bookish girl who shouldn't even like gym class." Drew McWeeny of HitFix sums it up best: "Overall, 'Divergent' is familiar fare, but served up by a cast that is fiercely dedicated to the material."
EXCLUSIVE: The Cast of "Divergent" Answers Your Unscripted Fan Questions (VIDEO)