Shailene Woodley has come a long way since her early days of acting. She appeared on the scene playing parts in teenage fare, capturing that section of the audience with roles that appealed strictly to a younger portion of the watching demographic. And there was a point in which she parlayed that into leading her own action franchise. For a bit, it looked like this was going to be one of the industry leaders on the big screen. It fell a little short of expectations though not because of the actress. Now you have a chance to catch the first film in the franchise blowing up on streaming. Divergent is in the top 10 on Amazon right now.
Divergent is based on the enormously popular book series of the same name. It takes place in the future, a reimagined world where society is put into very distinct groups based on their personality traits. There are the selfless, brave, peaceful, honest, and intellectual. Basically, people have a predilection to which group they ultimately belong and at the age of 16, they go through a chemical-induced Sorting Hat so to speak. It’s during this process that Shailene Woodley as Beatrice (Tris) realizes that she is, in fact, a Divergent.
This labeling puts Tris on the government radar because apparently if you are a Divergent then you can think for yourself, something no dystopian movie government really celebrates. Shailene Woodley is then able to act outside the bounds of the controlled society and starts to bring some much-needed subversiveness to this whole thing. She leans into her divergent nature and begins to act as an outsider, but also a leader. Without giving too much away, this ends up with Tris beginning to lead a rebellion among the rest of the teens. Here, check out the trailer for Divergent.
You can see from the trailer we are getting a much younger and much angstier version of Shailene Woodley. This was at the beginning of her career, and the movie wants to lean heavily into the teenage love connection as a central part of the story. It may have ended up undoing some of the cooler parts of the story as well, but it’s easy to see why they want it to trend in that direction. Like the books, they were looking for the teenage crowd.
Joining Shailene Woodley in the cast are a few other actors coming up around the same time. She develops a relationship with Four played by Theo James. Other talents in the younger crowd include Miles Teller, Zoe Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, and Jai Courtney. From this perspective, they got some folks who’d go on to have solid careers. And joining the adults were Ashley Judd as Tris’s mother and Kate Winslet as something like the main antagonist Jeanine Matthews.
But for all the cool source material and up-and-coming cast, Divergent was a flop with critics. It’s sitting at 41% on Rotten Tomatoes and 48 on Metacritic. Even though it was based on the novels, many saw it as a Hunger Games redux, with Shailene Woodley basically just playing the Jennifer Lawrence/ Katniss role. That could be unfair characterization based simply on *bad* timing in which the comparisons were unavoidable. Though it is clear this film wasn’t as good as that other major hit, it shouldn’t have been a flop.
It didn’t hit quite the same box office heights either. On the $85 million budget it took in around $290 million in ticket sales. This sum is palatable for studios but far from amazing. It was enough to earn Shailene Woodley and crew a sequel Insurgent just a few years later. This one cost even more money ($110 million) and took in only slightly more ($297 million), and stunk it up even more with critics. And then there was Allegiant which led to even more box office and critical consternation. In the end, the studio canceled the franchise before they wrapped the story up.
But even for Divergent underperforming expectations, it still helped really vault Shailene Woodley and her career. She plays the part well and is clearly a major talent. In this case, she was undone by the script and probably just too-high expectations. She’d go on to a starring role in HBO’s Big Little Lies and the critically well-received The Mauritanian. Next up for the actress is the Netflix film The Last Letter from Your Lover and also Megan Park’s high school drama The Fallout.
As for Divergent, like I said, it gets something of a bad wrap based on incredibly high expectations and unfair comparisons. In terms of decent action, engaging story, and all-around good performances, Shailene Woodley leads a decent film. It’s a shame they never saw it through until the end, but this first one does some cool world-building. Check out Divergent on Amazon.