Shailene Woodley: The Next Big Thing?
With all of the noise going on elsewhere, it’s a nice surprise to find James Ponsoldt’s teen relationship drama The Spectacular Now wedged into the summer release schedule in between Pacific Rim and Kick-Ass 2. Billed as a gritty and unflinching drama rather than the frothy rom-com you might expect at this time of year, the film has surprised everyone along with its leading lady: Shailene Woodley. The actress has hardly been out of our sight for months and now, just before her face becomes familiar to a whole different group of fans, isn’t it time we ask if she’s worth all of the hype?
Spending five seasons on ABC Family as teenage mother Amy Juergens on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, you’d never have guessed what would happen by the time the show bowed out. Despite its subject matter, the show was light on any real drama or chance for Woodley to show off her talents, and her critically celebrated performance in The Descendants was as much of a surprise to fans of the show as it was to those who’d never heard of the young actress before. The world was her oyster, but she went back to finish Amy’s story before hitting Hollywood hard.
Last weekend we got to see The Spectacular Now, but later this year will come Divergent, a Comic-Con worthy blockbuster that has been ruthlessly compared to The Hunger Games since it was announced. We’re not short of female-led dystopian sci-fi (a great thing in itself) right now, and thus we’re practically swimming in female leads ready to hit the big time a la Kristen Stewart or Jennifer Lawrence. Woodley herself was on the shortlist for Katniss Everdeen before losing out to Lawrence, and is the only actress of the group to now be headlining her own teen-friendly franchise.
No one has seen it yet but, judging by the disappointing box-office performance of every other YA novel adaptation released in the wake of Twilight, Divergent is in no way a safe bet to catapult the actress to stardom. In many ways, the scandal surrounding her role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could have helped her become more high profile, and thus compel more people to see her potential franchise launcher. Cast as Mary Jane Watson in the superhero sequel, the news first hit that the character had been cut from the film before rumors of recasting started to circulate.
Was it the loud complaints from fanboys that Woodley didn’t have the right look for their hero’s iconic love interest? We’ll likely never know the full behind-the-scenes story, but the silver lining for Woodley is that she’s come out of the scandal looking quite fabulous. She’s kept her dignity and endeared people to her with every development, meaning we may see her MJ in Amazing Spider-Man 3 yet. Could the story have helped Divergent become a bigger hit? In some ways, I hope it doesn’t.
Whether she is, indeed, the ‘next big thing’ depends on the performance of her next film, and is the ungraspable thing that separates the career of Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence. All three are indie darlings who have chosen the same path into buzzy-franchises, but only time will tell if Woodley’s decision was effectively selling out or upgrading. Achieving critical acclaim with her roles in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now is no mean feat, and it’d be a shame to lose her to a franchise this early in her career.
It’s a rare talent who can thrive in the indie world and the crowded arena of summer blockbusters but, then again, Woodley is already in the habit of surprising everyone.