Maybe it should have been called “Pleasantville 2: This time without quite as much pleasant”
“The Giver” is based on a 20 year old Children’s novel about a utopian world where everything isn’t quite as perfect as it might seem at first sight. Our hero, a new graduate named Jonas, finds himself playing a key role in this community, but must act as he begins to realize the truth that the others around him just can’t see. Now, while it’s likely you won’t recognize the actors who play the kids at the center of it all, you will likely recognize Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges who step in as the adults on opposing sides of keeping the town’s secret safe. And let’s just start with them. Cause they are really good.
Not that you would expect anything different from Streep and Bridges, but sometimes even great actors can get swept under when the material around them is found wanting. But here, they keep their performances strong even when the film isn’t, giving us a reason to believe in this world and stay at least a little invested. I also really enjoyed the way the film used color to convey the changes in our characters. I’d even call it the best thing about the movie. I know, as a metaphor it laid it on a bit thick, but especially at the start it was subtle enough that I found it to be a beautiful artistic touch. Even if Pleasantville did the exact same thing with the exact same message over 15 years ago.
And that is real problem here. Not just that a movie like this already exists, but beyond that, that so many of the themes and metaphorical touches just feel overdone. I mean the difference, I suppose, is that conceptually we are in a different universe with some interesting rules and traditions, but the concept never quite seems fully realized enough for us to really understand why this culture is the way it is. My assumption is that if you’ve read the book, you probably have a much greater sense of the way this universe operates, but for a non reader, there just felt like there were missing pieces. This was especially distracting and painful in the last act of the movie where I had trouble exactly understanding why and how the heroic journey of our main protagonist was supposed to work. I think it was explained well enough in broad terms so I at least I knew what he was trying to accomplish, but I never could quite grasp why it had to be done that way, or exactly why it would work in the first place. It kind of made me feel like the person at a hockey game who doesn’t understand what’s going on, but just knows to cheer when everyone else does.
Overall, The Giver seems to be a meaningful old story from an interesting new world. Even though there seemed to be some missing pieces, some great work by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges and a nice artistic touch bring it back up to a solid C+