The latest entrant in the YA franchise film sweepstakes, “The Giver” is based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Medal-winning novel and is a longtime pet project of its costar, Jeff Bridges. The trouble with pet projects is that too often they are unduly do-goody, and so it is here.
The story is set in a futuristic faux utopia in which people live out their lives in an enforced sameness devoid of true feeling starting from the cradle and abetted by passion-sapping drugs. For their own peace of mind, supposedly, they retain no knowledge of their own history. Only The Giver (Bridges) is entrusted with mankind’s back story, just in case the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) needs some extracurricular counsel.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been chosen to be the inheritor of the Giver’s lore and, in various mind-meld scenes resembling a mash-up of CNN Headline News and “Koyaanisqatsi,” the jumble of history and personal memory flash periodically before our eyes. It’s not long before Jonas realizes that a life without true feeling is pretty drab. (The film begins in black-and-white before shifting incrementally to color.)
It’s pretty drab anyway. The movie never really sheds its chilly Orwellian vibe, and its chief idea – that only The Giver and Jonas can truly feel – is contradicted by the supposedly blanked-out citizens who, in fact, appear to have feelings indeed, albeit nasty ones.
Philip Noyce, who has directed some marvelous movies (“The Quiet American,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence”) does his best to give this hoo-ha some snap, but he’s mired in the film’s pretensions. It doesn’t help that Bridges, doing an old-codger routine, seems to be playing his role with cotton-filled cheeks or that Streep, with her long braided locks, looks like a dyspeptic shepherdess. And what can you do with the scene in which Taylor Swift, in a mood-memory flashback, introduces Jonas to music? If they were going back in time, couldn’t they at least have come up with, say, Chopin, or Jimi Hendrix? Grade: C+ (Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.)