It’s not my birthday. I wasn’t asking for this.
Movie Review #1,005
1 hour, 48 minutes
Rated R (language)
Released August 7, 2015
Directed by Joel Edgerton
Written by Joel Edgerton
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, and Allison Tolman
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have always wanted to leave the city of Chicago and live a more quiet life. Now they can pursue this dream. Simon has found a job in Los Angeles, and a luxurious house in the suburbs. I guess that’s an unexpected surprise for a married couple, but once they move in, they face an even more surprising, albeit less pleasant, surprise. While they’re out shopping for furniture, they’re approached by Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a socially awkward man whom Simon knew back in high school. Simon can’t look at Gordo without remembering what a weird kid he was, but nonetheless, he and Robyn invite him over for dinner. Gordo then goes further to welcome them to the neighborhood. On separate occasions, he buys them fish for their koi pond and leaves a bottle of wine at their doorstep. Robyn is flattered by his kindness and feels bad for his social awkwardness, but Simon feels that Gordo might have a hidden agenda. He makes it clear to Gordo that he does not want to stay friends—a brutal mistake, because now Gordo’s insidious agenda will begin to take full-fledged action.
Joel Edgerton’s performance as Gordo is rather chilling. That’s not all the work he did on “The Gift”, though. Edgerton also serves as writer and, for the first time ever, as director. Frankly, he should stick to acting and nothing more, because that’s clearly where his talent sits. “The Gift” wants to convince us that it’s not as typical a stalker movie as the trailer had promised. Let’s be clear: the movie binges on clichés. Its definition of a Hitchcockian thriller is one that features a “shower scene,” for instance. But I guess “The Gift” is different from the average thriller, since it’s a whole lot more complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’m just not a fan of complicated thrillers. I’m a sucker for complex thrillers, but not at all for complicated ones. There’s a difference. If you’re throwing us for loop after loop with red herring after red herring, and all these twists and turns are as engrossing as the last, then your movie is complex. However, if you think you’re throwing us a whole bunch of red herrings, when your idea of a red herring is the sudden addition of a useless plot point, then your movie is complicated. “The Gift” would have been fine at the 90-minute mark, but Edgerton’s writing spends 20 minutes searching through Simon and Gordo’s past. Simon’s problem is that he just can’t move on and reconcile, and the movie’s own problem is quite similar: it would rather explore a past that feels frivolous and nearly unrelated to the story, than leave that chunk of the story behind and focus on what’s truly relevant.
None of the three leads are the least bit likable. Bateman and Hall are an unconvincing couple. The movie ends on a note that neither one of them trusts the other, so perhaps they ultimately benefit from their incompatibility as a screen couple. (The fact that Bateman is 46 and Hall is 33 has nothing to do with it, though you’d expect considerably more sincere casting from a movie with a budget as modest as $5 million.) He’s a white-collar, self-involved yuppie with a great wife, a great house, and a great life, and yet he still wants more. It is revealed that in order to gain a promotion, he lied about one of his co-workers credentials. And so gets just what he wants: he earns the promotion, and the co-worker gets fired. It is rather curious that Bateman is just as insidious as Edgerton, and even more detestable. It turns out that Bateman had nothing against this co-worker; he just wanted his promotion. Alas, this was but a useless plot point, anyway, one that existed solely to f–k up the character development.
Suppose there’s a yuppie out in California with plenty more water than any of his neighbors. Rather than using the water mindfully, this yuppie decides one day to leave the faucet on for several hours. Now this yuppie could be Jason Bateman’s character in “The Gift”, because there is indeed a scene in this movie in which Rebecca Hall returns home to discover that the faucet is running. Or, perhaps, my yuppie story is an analogy. The yuppie really stands for “The Gift” as a movie, and the wasted water stands for wasted potential. “The Gift” reaches its height in the last fifteen minutes, with a twist (what did you expect?) that feels entirely predictable. It’s supposed to be creepy, but it only feels obvious. It makes perfect sense that this is the climax. “The Gift” is an underwhelming film, and this point is where it is most underwhelming.