Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by: Phillip Noyce (“Salt”)
Written by: Michael Mitnick (debut) and Robert B. Weide (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)
As we become more and more removed from our days in the classroom, the passage of time withers away and degrades our sense of detail and we’re left with general remembrances of our learning experiences. A dozen years ago in 7th grade, I read the dystopian young adult novel “The Giver.” I can recall enjoying the book, but reflecting back on my days in middle school and especially walking into the theater to see the film adaptation, I remember nothing about the plot or content. I can only hope that the movie is just as easily forgettable.
In a seemingly utopian society, everyone is given pre-determined jobs and their place within a family. Unbeknownst to the citizens, they also live in a society without feelings, emotions, or even color. The only connection to the previous world is a man known as “The Giver” (Jeff Bridges), who has memories of life in the past. As he is on the precipice of becoming an adult, 16-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is selected to be “The Receiver” and have the memories transferred to him. But when what starts out as discovering a whole new life turns into something different as Jonas discovers the darker parts of society he decides that everyone needs to know.
Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but in order to buy into “The Giver,” you have to ignore a plethora of absurd plot holes, most of them big enough to ride a standard issue futuristic-looking bike through. Details about climate, injections, and a general sense of how the citizens are stifled are completely murky and hard to follow.
The citizens of this buttoned-down and manipulated community are meant to be lacking in feelings and emotions, which gives it some leeway in the sense of almost vacant performances. The problem is, the line delivery in “The Giver” is so bad that one might think that the teenagers in the film accidentally stumbled onto the set after filming an infomercial. Equal blame should be put on the screenwriters whose pedestrian and simple screenplay contains a lot of dialogue in the form of questions in a way that would make Alex Trebek proud. It’s extremely difficult to keep a straight face as a character, with complete seriousness and no irony poorly delivers the line “what is love?”
The character design is also particularly awful. Thwaites as a lead has nearly negative charisma and if you’re going to introduce a character as the funny guy who could always make everyone laugh, you might want to have him say something remotely funny a minimum of once in the film, or at least make him more personable than a bag of hammers. Bridges and Meryl Streep are pretty much the only members of the cast who show any semblance of acting, though they seem generally disinterested throughout.
Loyalties to the source material aside, the premise is only mildly intriguing, with exactly one truly interesting plot line and image that is quickly done away with and wasted. Everything else feels completely trite, as director Philip Noyce searches to find deeper meaning and a way to tap into emotions and finds nothing. The one saving grace of “The Giver” is that at times it is so bad that you can have some laughs at its expense. Whether it is faithful to the book or not seems to be a moot point as “The Giver” is a completely unmemorable slog with no personality, no interesting characters, and no real reason to exist.