Because of the nature of The Gift, this post is going to contain minor spoilers. There’s no way to talk about what makes the film work so brilliantly without giving away a few plot points. Such is the nature of the beast and all that. So, if you don’t want to deal with spoilers, allow me just to say this: Go see The Gift. See it tonight. See it tomorrow. See it this weekend. But, definitely — go see it!
(And if anyone tells you that The Gift is not worth seeing than that person is not really your friend and you need to start hanging out with a better class of people.)
Ryan has already reviewed The Gift and, having watched the film earlier today, I agree with everything that he had to say. That’s why I am happy to add my voice to his and encourage you to see The Gift. With this week pretty much dominated by ruminations on the colossal failure of The Fantastic Four and the upcoming weekend guaranteed to be dominated by the release of both Straight Outta Compton and The Man From UNCLE, there’s a definite risk that The Gift is going to get lost in the shuffle.
And that’s unfortunate. Much like the thematically similar Unfriended, The Gift comes disguised as a conventional thriller but, once you start to unwrap it, you discover that there are layers and layers of subtext and The Gift is actually one of the best and most thought-provoking films of the year.
Like many great Lifetime films, The Gift opens with a married couple living a deceptively wonderful life. Simon (Jason Bateman) is friendly and charming and appears to be on the verge of getting a big promotion at work. He and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), appears to be happy and in love. They have also got a friendly dog named Mr. Bojangles and they’ve just moved into a beautiful new house. After spending the last few years in Chicago, they’ve relocated to Simon’s home state of California. They’re looking forward to starting a family. Everything’s perfect.
And then, while out shopping for furniture, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton). Gordo explains that he went to high school with Simon. (At first, Simon swears to his wife that he doesn’t even remember Gordo but that soon proves to be false.) The socially awkward Gordo starts to send Simon and Robyn progressively more and more extravagant gifts. After Simon tells Robyn that Gordon was known as Weirdo in high school, Robyn starts to feel sorry for Gordo and insists that Simon try to be friendly towards him. Simon, however, remains weary of Gordo and his intentions. At first, it seems like Simon is just being cautious but, as the film unfolds, we discover that Simon has his own reasons for wanting to avoid his old classmate.
The more Gordo tries to insert himself into Simon and Robyn’s life, the more we start to see the cracks behind their “perfect” marriage. Robyn, it turns out, had previously suffered a miscarriage and has a history of abusing prescription medicine. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that, behind Simon’s fast smile, there lies a condescending control freak. (Gordo mentions that Simon ran for senior class president on a “Simon says” platform.)
There’s more to Simon and Gordo’s relationship than either one of them is initially willing to admit. In high school, Simon was a bully and Gordo was his number one victim. That Gordo wants revenge on Simon should not be surprising. That’s obvious from the trailer. No, the genius of the film is to be found in the way that it subtly reveals that, as an adult, Simon is still as much of a jerk and a bully as he was in high school. He’s just gotten a lot better at hiding it. The same traits that made Simon a bully in high school have helped him to find material success in the real world. When Gordo reeneters his life, Simon can no longer hide who he really is. Gordo is not just his former victim. Gordo is proof of what lies underneath Simon’s perfect facade. When Robyn finally convinces Simon to apologize to Gordo, Simon cannot do so convincingly because he’s not so much sorry as he’s just inconvenienced. When Gordo refuses to accept the apology, Simon’s mask falls away and he reveals his true nature, setting up the film’s devastating conclusion.
(I’m not going to spoil how the film ends but I will tell you that it left me breathless and stunned. It’s not a happy ending but it is absolutely the right ending for the story that’s being told. As both the film’s director and writer, Joel Edgerton deserves a lot of credit for staying true to the movie’s theme.)
Rebecca Hall is well-cast as Robyn but, ultimately, the film is dominated by the performances of Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton. (Interestingly enough, both Bateman and Edgerton are made up so that they superficially resemble each other, allowing Gordo to literally become the personification of Simon’s ugly side.) Edgerton transforms Gordo into a character who is both scary and pathetic at the same time. Meanwhile, Jason Bateman — oh, where to begin? For the longest time, it’s been impossible for me to look at Bateman without flashing back to that scene in Juno where he hit on Ellen Page. Now, however, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Jason Bateman without hearing him yell, “Accept my apology!” Jason Bateman has played a lot of less-than-sympathetic characters but Simon … well, Simon may be the worst. As an actor, Jason Bateman deserves a lot of credit for not shying away from revealing the truth about Simon. It takes courage to play such an unlikable character and talent to make that character compelling even when the viewer can’t stand him.
The Gift is an excellent and thought-provoking thriller, the type of film that will both make you jump with fright (I screamed during a certain shower scene and that’s all I’ll say about that) and leave you with much to think about after the end credits roll.
It’s a film that you need to see now.