Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Giver

"The Giver" is not the first - or even the seventh - bad movie Meryl Streep's appeared in, but it is bad, sententious YA sci-fi. In case you hadn't heard: conformity and eugenics, boo; freedom and self-definition, yay.

Dime-a-dozen pretty boy Brenton Thwaites stars as Jonas, son of Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård) - yes, it's that kind of picture. They're one of thousands of interchangeable families in the deterministic, black-and-white community of the movie's future. (Rarely has black and white looked so ugly or been so poorly conceived as a symbol of repression.) At a bizarre ceremony at which the old folks are "released to Elsewhere," Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) and her board of directors name Jonas the group's new Receiver of Memories (why? and what exactly happened to the last one?), charged with learning from the Giver (Jeff Bridges) how we stupid humans used to behave. Streep's dialogue here - "When people get to choose, they choose wrong every time" - might have come from the mouth of Diane Ladd's mad geneticist in "Carnosaur" ("Ugh - the human being is the worst!"). Her coiffure must be seen to be believed. Only once or twice is Bridges' sly levity (in a too-old part originally intended for his late father, Lloyd) allowed to lift the pall. 

Everything about "The Giver" is generic, from Thwaites to his best friend turned love interest Fiona (Odeya Rush), to the buddy (Cameron Monaghan) who implores him to follow all the rules, to the stock video footage used to represent the best (mothers giving birth, Olympians winning medals, Nelson Mandela) and worst (war, poverty, crime) of humankind. As the director, Phillip Noyce, if you're splicing canned imagery like this into your movie, you have nothing left to say.

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