At one point in “The Giver”, Meryl Streep tells fellow Oscar winner Jeff Bridges: “When people have the freedom to choose – they choose wrong.” This seems to apply perfectly to the decision that Bob & Harvey Weinstein made to finance this big-screen adaptation of one of the most popular tween books of the last 25 years. I had several opportunities to read The Giver in grade school, but after hearing things about the story, I decided the premise was a little too “out there” for my taste. The same can be said for the film version.
The first thing readers of the novel will notice is that Bridges doesn’t have the beard and long white hair of The Giver on the cover of the book. The filmmakers decided to “giver” the hair extension to Streep instead. She portrays the Chief Elder, who rules over a large, futuristic colony where the people have no emotions, don’t experience pain, have no authentic feelings, don’t know color or the meaning of love.
On Graduation Day, 18-year-old Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites – Prince Philip in “Maleficent”) is assigned to his life-long job – a special one where he gets to work with The Giver himself as the new Receiver of Memories. But when Jonas begins to learn how life used to be, and how everyone in the community is being deceived, he decides he needs to do something about it.
The overriding problem with “The Giver”, is that the narrative is simply too tame. There are some potentially interesting concepts here, but the elementary school-level script never goes deep enough to explore them. Since it’s based on a tween novel I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but the film is PG-13 and needed much more depth.
Bridges and Streep attempt to elevate “The Giver” with their performances, but director Phillip Noyce (“Salt”) is too restrained with them as well. Many scenes come-off as hokey, including several sledding rides, practically every scene involving Jonas’ zombie-like parents (played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) and his naive girlfriend Fiona (Odeya Rush), and a hologram cameo performance by singer Taylor Swift, who plays the piano while trying to act alongside the veteran Bridges. And on top of all of this is a “sing-songy” score that won’t get out of your head for weeks.
“The Giver” is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action/violence, disturbing images and a whole lot of peril for one brave little baby. If the serious themes had been developed at all, “The Giver” may have been worth recommending. But as is, “The Giver” takes (time and $$) much more than it gives.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Giver” receives a D+.