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Nov 22 2018

Months of Meryl: The Giver (2014)

JohnandMattheware watching every single live-action film starring Meryl Streep.

#47 —The Chief Elder,leader of a dystopian society.

MATTHEW:In Lois Lowry's 1993 young adult novelThe Giver,a society recovering from near-ruination divides its people into communities and,in the process,mistakes sameness for equality.In the 2014 film adaptation of Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning classic,a production team looking to make a quick buck on the under-18 set mistakes glossy superficiality for storytelling simplicity and basic filmmaking competency.Despite its undeniable following and long-held status as a formative literary staple for American adolescents,The Giverwas somehow omitted from my middle school reading list.I'm positive Lowry's tale has its merits,but whatever those may be,they are almost entirely undetectable in this version from journeyman director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence,The Quiet American).

Noyce's iteration centers around Jonas (Australian twink Brenton Thwaites),a 16-year-old who we are told possesses uncommon brilliance and "a capacity to see beyond,"assets that earn him the title of his community's Receiver of Memory...

The position requires Jonas to quite literally inherit memories through mystical transferral sessions with an Elder known as the Giver (Jeff Bridges),the only remaining human who can recall life pre-isolation,a burden that has led to great inner turmoil and personal strife.In their daily meetings,the Giver forces Jonas to see past an existence devoid of color,feeling,and difference and introduces him to a world of emotion,pain,and mortality so as to purposely stoke the flames of rebellion within this impressionable pupil.

Slickly-paced and shot in dreary,depthless black-and-white for much of its runtime,Noyce's interpretation resembles an in-movie parody of a movie,filled with too many actors who have the emotional range of a potato.Bridges,a producer on the film who optioned the rights to Lowry's book not long after its publication as a potential vehicle for his late father Lloyd,delivers the closest thing to a true and deeply-felt performance,even when prone as ever to his gruff mumbling and growling.And then there's Meryl Streep,playing the community's all-knowing and all-seeing Chief Elder with appropriate restraint and doing a regrettable favor for once-powerful entertainment tyrant and serial rapist Harvey Weinstein,who distributedThe Giver,along with several of the actress' most prestigious titles over the past 15 years.

Streep first appears during the graduation pageant at which Jonas is endowed with the title of Receiver;she is serene,stately,and transparent in the form of a massive,talking hologram,a gimmick that,aside from the authoritarian suppression of it all,has bested just about all of my commencement speakers.Elsewhere,she's a stifling force,fittingly devoid of personality.As the Chief Elder,Streep is never less than a commandingly eerie presence,but entire passages zip by in which the actress is given no larger tasks than scrutinizing surveillance footage with a stern gaze or issuing unbudging threats to the Giver and an increasingly empowered Jonas.These warnings emerge as assertive whispers from a dour and unmoving countenance,framed by long,limp gray locks which make Streep look as though she's playing the mother of Holly Hunter'sTop of the Lakeguru.

Like Bridges,her fellow elder in the ensemble and hernear-costarinHope Springs,Streep can summon up conviction without breaking a sweat,bringing the gravitas that Lowry's allegory needed all along in order to compel a moviegoing audience.Noyce deserves neither of these acting legends,but the pair's climactic tête-à-tête over the inhumane values of the film's society is the only occasion in which Lowry's central argument — that autonomy of choice may lead to mistakes,death,and disaster,but is ultimately what makes us human — is foregrounded and given its due consideration.

John,I know that you have actually readThe Giver.I'm curious about what you make of Streep's charitable participation here,but more so about whether you think there's actually a gripping and stimulating screen adaptation to be made from what is arguably Lowry's most beloved work.

JOHN:The Givermight just be one of those "unadaptable"books,or at least a novel that requires a level of ingenuity behind the camera to match Lowry's prowess on the page.From what I can recall of my seventh-grade English class,the book,unlike the film,doesn't immediately establish itself as a dystopia;you read alongside Jonas' perspective as he uncovers the more sinister aspects of his seemingly perfect world.I remember being bowled over by his transformation and the novel's ultimate profundity.At the time,I hadn't ever read anything quite like it.For fans of the book,the film is a tall order and an inevitable letdown,and,even worse,as an advertisement for those who haven't read the novel,it does nothing to convince you of the original's merit.Its vision of evil is dull and somnolent,and its laughable attempts at depicting multicultural humanism are as inspiring as a pharmaceutical commercial and about as deep as one,too.And let's not even get into Taylor Swift's cameo,a one-minute howler that nonetheless offers a respite from the otherwise stultifying tutoring sequences between Jonas and the Giver.

As for Streep,she shuts down all of her faculties for wooing and winking at her audience as she placidly repeats,"Thank you for your childhood,"or extols the problems of freedom,looking both severe and petite in that Jane Campion wig.It's a brief delight to watch her command Jeff Bridges to transmitthose memories to "the boy";she works very hard to appear stern and imperturbable,but when Streep works hard,she usually pulls through.Streep is an expert at tapping into the precise tone of her film,her self-seriousness as Chief Elder a perfect match for her director's dour vision.And,as you've pointed out,her sparring with Bridges in the execution viewing room over the pitfalls of human choice is formidable both as an apotheosis of the film's themes and as a revealing moment for her character.

And yet this series has made it increasingly clear to me that I prefer my Meryl with cream and sugar.Whenever Streep chooses these scaled-back and sealed-off supporting roles that force her to keep her feelings at bay,the results can sometimes be revelatory,but are more often just plain unnecessary.Maybe Chief Elder was another instance of Streep deciding to have some fun with a nasty,little supporting character while repaying Weinstein for clinching her that third gold statue.Whatever its merits,this is a performance that means absolutely nothing to the actress or her fans,aside from the newfound desire to have a Streep hologram transmitted into our living rooms on a daily basis.

Next week:Into the Woods

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Reader Comments (17)

The Joni Mitchell wig

November 22,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I think I lasted about 40 minutes with this movie,before realising that it had no value for me whatsoever and leaving the cinema.Utter shite (and unbelievable that a great director like Noyce was responsible for it).

November 22,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Does this need discussuion,it's a pay cheque,that's all.

November 22,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Streep stole Anjelica's drag.

November 22,2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

This movie is awful because of the young male lead.The novel is great for kids.For Streep,it was a free trip to Arica with her spouse and kids and a chance to work with Jeff Bridges.Too bad their agents could not have found something worthy of their talents.

November 22,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Still looking for a better Bridges/Streep collaboration but glad that she ventured into sci fi fantasy.Weren't they looking for a sixty year old woman to play the villain in Star Trek 4?Sign Streep up.

November 22,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

It is a damn shame that we waited some forty years for actors as great as Bridges & Streep to unite onscreen,and we get this truly awful film (arguably Streep's worst).I hope some director decides to rectify this travesty at some point.

November 22,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

A horrible movie!!!!

November 22,2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

I love the novel.In fact,I took an English literature elective while I was in Seoul and that's when I read the book.Shortly after,I found out that they were currently filming with Streep and Bridges.

I was so excited!

The film,as many have pointed out,underwhelms.

However,the Streep execution room scene is memorable and wonderful.

November 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

This movie is pretty lame- Streep must have either needed the money or owed someone in the production a favor

November 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I believe Jeff Bridges turned down "The River Wild"too.

November 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBC

Why can't I find Prarie Home Companion in the series?

November 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Link to Prairie Home Companion:


November 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBC


November 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

This movie is the only Meryl Streep movie that is banned in China,and It's just for one specific scene in the movie.Guess which scene!

November 26,2018 | Unregistered CommenterLord

Does anyone else see the sexual tension between the Chief Elder and the Giver,particularly in the one like "Of course I remember her name!"?It seems like Meryl doing one of the things she loves to do,which is give a backstory to characters that don't have one.

December 1,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEva

Wow,Great writing skill...I really thanks to you for giving great can readThe Giver.I will Bookmark this website.and recommend for everyone to readTop Novel books

July 2,2019 | Unregistered CommenterFiroz

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