The worst thing about these new Young Adult adaptations is that they treat their audience like children. The people behind them refuse to dig deeper in their sources material, afraid to take away attention from the bubble-gum teen romance or make their leads seem—God forbid—like more than a pair of googly eyes.
“The Giver”, based off a classic book burdened on every middle-school student, is a slightly better YA adaptation that still suffers—like it’s peers— because it lives on the surface.
It follows the same post-apocalyptic theme wherein something horrible happened (we are never told what beyond an obligatory name, The Ruin). As a result a new society is born and harsh rules like “No Lying”, and, “Use Precise Language” are enacted as well as daily injections of “medicine” of these rules everyone seems…actually pretty happy. Kids laugh and play, rich friendships are born, there’s no war or violence. How do they feel about living in this sort of world? Who knows, because what’s on the surface is all we see.
Despite that fact this novel is filled with such depth, nothing about the world, relationships, and the societies logic go unexplained except by what we are allowed see or what qualities we are told people possess, which isn’t much. I think the tweens bouncing into the theater wouldn’t be able to handle all of it.
No, they are here to see a hot 18-year-old looking chap named Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, whose character is really 11 in the books)
Thwaites makes for a not very stupid but abundantly boring protagonist whose emotions range from happy to confused/scared when he is shown all the memories of the world as the new Receiver of Memories. He would’ve been great if this was a silent movie, but alas, he lives in a world where he should to go deeper into his character.
What’s worse is that the man giving him these visions, The Giver, is played by Jeff Bridges with such a lack of enthusiasm or wisdom that it seems unbelievable he possesses the world’s memories and despite all the treachery he embraces all the beauty.
Clearly there were no memories of Monty Python lingering about because both these men (who are the only ones in this society who knows these things exist) are the two dullest people around.
However, there are bright spots that elevate slightly above its peers. Some of the performances by Meryl Streep as Chief Elder and Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes as Jonas’s mom and dad, and the memory scenes pack enough emotional punch to where I didn’t my time was being totally wasted.
But here is a movie that desires to make the point that we should celebrate all the beauty and complexity of life, but fails to have any of its own despite such rich material to play with. What YA movies need, and lack, is a passionate soul that pushes its point forward, crossing the finish line with a thrilling climax (the one here is blunt and shockingly somber). This movie barley gets there, limping the whole way.