If you're unfamiliar with Veronica Roth's wildly successful "Divergent" trilogy, I'm sorry: I can't explain the plot or premise to you in any detail, because there's a very good chance that in the attempt, I would fall asleep, throw up, choke on my throwup, and die. And then who would take care of my cat? Suffice to say that the three "Divergent" installments are the most recent "dystopian" youth adult books to capture the hearts and minds of the 47 adolescents who still read, and that a new film adaptation of the first book is doing its darnedest to capture their weekend spending money as well.
Divergent's concept reads like someone ran the SparkNotes plot summary of The Hunger Games through Google translate several times, then read it aloud in a mocking voice after six tequila shots. It's about a society that enforces conformity by dividing people into houses, districts, factions, according to whether they are smart, brave, peaceful, giving, or honest—but there are a few special people called divergents who don't fit into any category because they're so special. (MILLENNIALS, AMIRITE.)
Protagonist Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is divergent, which puts her in danger because being divergent is massively threatening to the status quo. We know it's threatening because people tell Beatrice things like, "You don't fit into a category! They can't control you!" It's hard to say why it's threatening, though, or who is enforcing said quo, because series author Roth forgot to actually build the world these books are set in. (Oopsie.) She forgot to do a lot of things, actually: In lieu of world-building, character development, narrative tension, or any of the usual things that make us give one errant shit particle about the stories we consume, in Divergent, stuff just... happens. Stuff and stuff and more stuff. Explodey stuff and kissing stuff and punching and fighting and shooting stuff. If Roth could jab you in the neck with a syringe full of a mind-control serum that transmitted pure plot, she surely would. None of it makes much sense, which is too bad because this movie is one hundred million years long. You can fact check that on IMBD if you want.
Woodley (The Descendents, The Spectacular Now) is a fascinating actor to watch, because she never lets on for a second that she knows we're watching—she gives such a self-contained and internal performance that it's almost possible to believe Beatrice has more than half a dimension. JK, no it isn't, because Beatrice is a terrible character; her only apparent attribute is the ability to receive severe beatings in such a way that the bruises flatteringly highlight her cheekbones. Her love interest is played by Theo James, who looks like a cross between James Franco and a very beautiful thumb. (I would kiss him.) (He is only two years younger than me.) (It wouldn't be weird.)
Divergent is a faithful adaptation of its source material, which is to say, pretty terrible! Like the book, it's wish fulfillment for teenaged girls who have really stupid wishes.
dir. Neil Burger