Poor sweet Peeta: he's the kid in the corner who quietly pines for the pretty girl who never notices.
And in this case, he's the handsome, camera-ready baker's son who saved Katniss once and helps save her again in the Games.
Boy Meets Girl
Peeta and Katniss are from the same impoverished District, but he's got enough to eat because his family owns a bakery and raises pigs. Back when the only thing Katniss had to worry about was starving to death, Peeta threw her some loaves of bread when she was all hunkered in the mud and starving. While he might do that anyway just because he's a good guy, we get some longing looks from him that suggests he has a little thing for her.
When fate throws them together as a team, he admits to Caesar Flickerman that he's got it good for Katniss:
PEETA: Well, there uh... There is this one girl that I've had a crush on forever. But I don't think she actually recognized me until the Reaping.
CAESAR: Well, I'll tell you what, Peeta. You go out there and you win this thing, and when you get home, she'll have to go out with you. Right, folks?
PEETA: Thanks, but I don't think winning's gonna help me at all.
CAESAR: And why not?
PEETA: Because she came here with me.
CAESAR: Well, that's bad luck.
PEETA: Yeah, it is.
It turns out not to be bad luck at all. Seeing an opportunity, Haymitch sells them as a couple in love to generate some sponsors among the Capitol's more romantically inclined citizens. We're not too sure at this point whether this is Peeta's motivation, too, or if it's more than just a survival strategy. Is he in love with her, or is he just a self-sacrificing good guy who'd have done it for anyone?
Of course, no one filled Katniss in on this romance angle, and she kind of freaks out on him:
KATNISS: What the hell was that? You don't talk to me and then you say you have a crush on me? You say you want to train alone? Is this how you want to play? Huh?
Whether Peeta's feelings about Katniss are requited or not, authentic or staged, he continues to look out for her throughout the Games. He keeps the Careers from killing her when they see her up in the tree, suggesting they just wait her out. (He knows his girl's likely to figure out a way to escape.) And in an ultimate moment of self-sacrifice, Peeta would rather die than see Katniss risk her life in the arena to get medicine that might save him. Feverish and close to death, he begs Katniss not to go. In a tender moment, she agrees and lies down next to him.
As soon as he's out, off she goes.
Ready for His Close-Up
Peeta brings another piece to the puzzle that his not-quite-a-girlfriend-yet-but-stay-tuned can't muster. Unlike Katniss, who's awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera, Peeta's a natural TV personality. His charisma and instinctive PR skill help improve the couple's standing, and his gentleness helps smooth over some of Katniss's pricklier character traits. It's surprising to see this in him, because early on we learn he's not the most self-confident guy in the world:
PEETA: I have no chance of winning! None! All right? It's true. Everybody knows it. You know what my mother said? She said District 12 might finally have a winner. But she wasn't talking about me. She was talking about you.
Somehow he manages to disguise his doubts. In his interview with Caesar, he's chatty and appealing. We don't know where he got this charisma, being from gritty, downtrodden District 12—not exactly a place that spawns upbeat, media-savvy teenagers. Still, the guys a charmer, and his ability to help create the love-story narrative helps save Katniss for a second time.
While Katniss is a girl of action, Peeta sits quietly and thinks a lot more. It's very revealing that one of his important skills is camouflage—making himself invisible. He's not about to shoot an arrow into the Capitol judges' dinner party. He contemplates his current situation, which leads him to some very important philosophical conclusions, like how winning the Hunger Games still leaves you with scars for life.
PEETA: I just don't want them to change me.
KATNISS: How would they change you?
PEETA: I don't know. They'd turn me into something I'm not. I just don't want to be another piece in their game, you know?
KATNISS: You mean you won't kill anyone?
PEETA: No. I mean, I'm sure I would, just like anybody else when the time came, but I just keep wishing that I could think of a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm gonna die, I want to still be me. Does that make any sense?
This moment of reflection is important because it helps keep Katniss balanced, understanding that they can lose not only their lives in the arena, but their souls as well.
It's tough, though, because Peeta doesn't have Katniss's self-confidence.
Boy Loses Girl
So here are the winners on the train, going home from their harrowing experience. Bonded forever right? Peeta gets a rude awakening:
PEETA: So what happens when we get back?
KATNISS: I don't know. I guess we try to forget.
PEETA: I don't want to forget.
Katniss looks away. Poor Peeta. If we were him, we'd be thinking, "You've got to be kidding me. I did all this for nothing?" But hang tough, Peeta. Your girl is going to come around.
But that's a story for another movie…meanwhile, we're just glad Katniss has this sweet boy on her side.