Second Breakfast: Enjoying ‘The Gift’-giving Season

SecondBreakfast-01Remember earlier this year when everyone was incredibly surprised to see that Joel Edgerton of all people wrote, directed, and co-starred in a psychological thriller? Remember when everyone was even more incredibly surprised to hold the general consensus that Joel Edgerton’s movie was pretty damn good? I’ve been writing this column for over three years now and have noticed something during that time: believe it or not, other people out there in the world also review movies sometimes. I know; weird, right? Sometimes, as a small fish in a big pond, I still feel as though I say something original and worthwhile. Sometimes I don’t. Full disclaimer, my review of this movie is pretty much the same as what everyone else said about it.

To some that up in one brief line: Joel Edgerton, who knew?

Blue-Tongue Films I got this picture from, which seems appropriate because ew, goatees.

Blue-Tongue Films
I got this picture from, which seems appropriate because ew, goatees.

The Gift (2015)

The Plot: Young married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to the suburbs near where Simon grew up after he gets a new job there. Before long they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a slightly odd, perhaps socially awkward man who grew up with Simon. Now, it’s always super awkward to unintentionally reconnect with someone from high school, but Gordo’s creep level, masked beneath gifts and sudden appearances, soon begins to skyrocket. Robyn realizes that something terrible happened between Simon and Gordo years before, but must embark upon her own investigation to find out what.

Blue-Tongue Films There's just something so off-putting about that goatee.

Blue-Tongue Films
There’s just something so off-putting about that goatee.

Creepy guy from high school begins stalking happy young married couple. That’s a pretty well-worn plot. You could head in a bunch of directions from that basic premise, but they’re all predictably familiar. Going in, we pretty much know how the movie’s going to turn out, but Edgerton makes it really difficult to care about the predictability. Both Bateman and Hall make superb efforts to realize these inventively written characters. Simon gradually transforms from caricature to engaging bastard as he loses patience with the scenario. He makes the requisite superficial effort to give Gordo a chance, but his faux generosity morphs into a really mean-spirited irritation; meanwhile Robyn’s genuine friendliness slowly slips into nervous paranoia. Both actors do a great job fulfilling what others would have allowed to be loose character archetypes, devoid of personality. Bateman especially—traditionally a comedian—brings Simon to life in unexpected and haunting ways.

Of course, Joel Edgerton’s Gordo steals the show. The most stereotypical figure in the film is here realized with the greatest care and ingenuity. Gordo is simultaneously creepy and sad, threatening and sympathetic, alien and entirely familiar. The mystery nicely complements this uncertainty, as there are such frequent loose ends and red herrings we’re never quite sure how much we’re supposed to trust or fear Gordo, if he is a genuine threat, or if we’re merely misreading the situation because, like Simon and Robyn, we’ve seen this movie enough times to know that we should expect him to be bad.

Blue-Tongue Films Ah! There it is again. The goatee.

Blue-Tongue Films
Ah! There it is again. The goatee.

As I said, The Gift, given its premise can only turn out a small handful of ways. To break it down into a handy dichotomy, we either have a scenario where the socially awkward Gordo never got to be friends with the cool kids and now, as an adult, projects his frustration on an underserving target or Simon was a bully and this is a revenge narrative. Oddly enough, whichever scenario they choose, the outcome is basically the same: Gordo makes a move against Simon and Robyn (probably tying them up in their house and killing their dog), Simon expresses guilt over what happened, regardless of his level of responsibility, Gordo makes some speech about how hard high school can be, and then he either kills himself or the cops show up just in time. Order is restored, but Simon and Robyn have some stuff to think about. Predictable.

Well… I sat their comfortably through the whole movie assuming I knew where we were headed and then Edgerton really throws a curve ball in the last ten minutes or so. I mean, damn. This is one of those movies that you ought to watch. Don’t look up what happens online, because reading the spoiler will not fully capture the weight of the matter and the brilliance of the execution. I have to say, this is one of the most unexpected—perhaps I should say least expected—endings I have seen in recent memory. He really caught me off guard. The result is shocking, disturbing, thought-provoking, surprisingly organic, and just generally (in terms of effect, not in terms of literal content) a bit Oldboy-ish. Like a good twist ending, it ties the whole movie together, but doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick that renders the previous hundred minutes utterly pointless misdirection. Should Joel Edgerton unexpectedly decide to make another movie, I am totally on board.

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