Friday, August 15, 2014

Lois Lowry's The Giver Gives...And Then Some!

By Anne M. Raso

Not being a fan of science fiction, I was skeptical about seeing The Giver but I quickly fell in love with it--it transcends the genre of sci-fi and teaches the lessons of love, tolerance and forgiveness via depicting a future society that's not so pretty. I had never read the book by Lois Lowry even though it is HarperCollins' top-selling "young adult" e-book of all time. There is mega-star power in The Giver including Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder and Jeff Bridges as The Giver, and it is possibly Jeff Bridges who steals the show as the one "elder" who doesn't act like a robot in a black and white world where everyone is alike in every way and issued orders on how to behave. Love isn't a concept in this new world--everyone just goes about their daily business with assigned jobs and roles in society, live in identical housing, eat identical food for dinner and even have assigned children that come from a stark baby laboratory where defective babies are done away with via shots and disposed like garbage down a shoot.
The entire cast

I don't want to give away any spoilers but let's just say that Meryl Streep is brilliant as the icy Chief Elder who can see everything everyone in her world does 24/7 on a multiple screens, including the metamorphosis of "perfect citizen" Jonas into a loving human being who helps change his cold world via special lessons from The Giver. The Giver takes Jonas back into the world as we know it in present day America—or lets say, at least a place with real trees and plants and not the manufactured ones in the world Jonas lives in. These lessons (some which are taught through books in The Giver's library) help bring love and a brand new world to everyone around Jonas. Jonas is played by handsome young acting newcomer Brenton Thwaites and additional star power in the cast includes Taylor Swift playing Rosemary, daughter of The Giver who has passed on to "elsewhere" and Katie Holmes as Jonas' "by the book" cool-headed mother.
Jeff Bridges and Katie Holmes
I was lucky enough to go to the press conference for the film at New York's Essex House where the entire cast, author Lois Lowry and director Phillip Noyce fielded questions about the movie from 60 international journalists. The affection the press at this event had for the film was contagious and several folks stood up to tell Ms. Lowry, now 77, that they loved her book and read it as part of their English curriculum.

The press conference started off with Jeff Bridges reminiscing about Robin Williams stating, "I remember pulling up to the Boathouse (in Central Park) where we had our party (for The Giver) and I’m sitting there with my wife, gathering myself and I look out of the window and I say, ‘What? Is that Robin? Is that his ghost? No! It’s Radioman, a guy who knows where every movie set in NYC is and looks like a character Robin would play. (Laughs.) I ran up and hugged him. It brought back all of these wonderful feelings of what an amazing time we had together here in New York shooting The Fisher King. I’m feeling it (Robin' ghost) here now in this room with us. Just before I came down (to this press conference) I was looking out my window to Central Park, my favorite part about New York, and I’m remember the last scene of me and Robin out there at four o’clock in the morning. Nude! Naked! And Robin’s just wild and free.” The still handsome Bridges said that he wanted to end the tribute to his longtime friend on a positive note and remarked with a smile, “I just want to acknowledge the fullness of life, the joy and sadness that is in store for us all. I’m filled with both of these today as I was last night learning of my dear friend’s passing, Robin.”
Brenton Thwaites as Brandon
The cast was as enthusiastic as the press conference “audience”--and was happy to answer any and all questions about the film and its adaptation from book to big screen. There is a lot of buzz on it, and it's actually Bridges who put the wheels in motion over a decade ago--he is a producer on the film and interestingly enough, wanted his legendary dad Lloyd to play the title role that he wound up taking on. "I always have love this book and wanted to turn it into a film," he stated.
Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder
Bridges seemed to turn around and listen attentively every time Streep spoke and she admitted, "I always wanted to work with him but somehow our paths somehow never crossed all these years." She joked that she liked the role "because it's an interesting thing to play people who have suppressed emotion but I felt that The Chief Elder did not take her medication. (Laughs.) She had a deep history with The Giver and that is something that intrigued me with this script. That is sort of the point of the book--you can't keep things in--you can't suppress feelings."

Taylor Swift was thrilled to get her small but meaty roll and stated, "When I first read the book, it changed my perspective on a lot of things. When I read it, I was probably in fifth grade and I did not do a lot of thinking about our future society at that point in my life--and it blew my mind and really stuck with me. When I got the script, I just thought, 'I'm going to say yes to this'! I hope it's a good adaptation and has the same effect as the book had on me."

The Giver goes in wide release this Friday, August 15th and it's probably the most unique mass-market film of the summer. Check it out and it will give you a new perspective on the pain as well as pleasure in your life and not to take anything for granted.

Photos: Anne Raso, The Weinstein Co,

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