Rebecca Hall in The Gift

The Gift

The two meatheads sitting next to us at The Gift last night were having a hard time with the movie. They talked. They fidgeted and twitched. One of them checked the time on his Apple Watch a half-dozen times over the course of 30 minutes. Eventually, one of them fell dead asleep. I don’t think he made it to the halfway mark. His buddy roused him and they split with about a half-hour to go in the picture. I sort of envied them. Like I said, these guys were meatheads. But I got where they were coming from.

The story of a marriage disturbed by a visitor from the husband’s distant past, The Gift is bestowed on us by writer-director-actor Joel Edgerton, coming on as a triple threat. The actor is fine, playing the film’s friendly but off-putting interloper with a blankness that could be malice, embarrassment, or ennui. The director is a little unsure, staging some scenes clumsily and playing opportunist when it comes to a couple of cheap jump scares, but also drawing tension out nicely over time and maintaining a sense of mystery all the way through the second act. But the writer. Well, the writer is a tricky sonofabitch all right, but his cleverness didn’t add up to much for me.

SPOILER TERRITORY:
Making the film all about Rebecca Hall’s character, Robyn, was a choice that I appreciated (she’s an appealing actor), even though it required defining her along stereotypical lines–loving, trusting, in need of protection, largely left alone by hard-working husband Simon (Jason Bateman), and (maybe most of all) covetous of the baby she has so far been unable to conceive. Pretty tedious stuff, yes. Most of the film’s feints were so obvious that it was annoying to have wait as the script set up the inevitable reveals (no, Gordon does not really own a cavernous mansion; yes, the cavalier, career-obsessed asshole was a bully in high school; of course, the dog is alive). So I was disappointed in myself for missing what should have been most obvious of all in retrospect: the real meaning of the weirdly staged scene where Robyn collapses in her house and wakes up the next morning to a bitchy lecture from her husband.

Anyway, it left a bad taste in my mouth when the film suddenly shifted perspectives and became all about: first, Simon’s response when he realizes that Gordon has truly had his way with him and, second, Gordon’s chilly demeanor as he moseys off into the sunset. I guess it’s interesting inasmuch as it posits a moral equivalence between two truly despicable acts, but I wonder if Edgerton is fully cognizant of how the film’s normalized and floridly realized misogyny plays as the fantasies of a schoolyard bully. It just made me want to get out of that theater and away from people in general as quickly as possible. Meatheads, c’est moi.

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