Review: Return to Sender
PLOT: After being raped by an intruder, Miranda Wells decides to strike up a relationship with the man while he's behind bars. Has she truly forgiven him, or does she have something else in mind?
REVIEW: Is Rosamund Pike in danger of being typecast as a vengeful ice queen who will go to extraordinary lengths to bring justice to the men who do wrong by her? After the terrific GONE GIRL and now the less-than-terrific RETURN TO SENDER, the answer is... could be. Indeed, there's no getting around the fact that her role in this tepid thriller will call to mind her stunning turn in David Fincher's film, as in both she's a sociopath who makes it her life's work to bring hell to a lousy bastard - although the bastard in SENDER is considerably worse than Ben Affleck's cheating moron in GONE GIRL. The main difference is, GONE GIRL is expertly written, directed and acted, Pike's excellent performance just being one piece of a wholly satisfying puzzle. RETURN TO SENDER allows Pike to shine for moments, but she's really the only thing going for it; it's a boring, by-the-numbers melodrama that doesn't deserve her. (For the record, it was made before Fincher's film.)
Pike plays Miranda Wells, a small-town nurse without much of a life or personality. Aside from her old dog of a father (Nick Nolte), and a handful of coworkers, she has nothing going for her, and she appears content to keep it that way. One day, after being set up by a concerned friend, Pike lets in a young man who she believes is her blind date. Said young man, William (Shiloh Fernandez), is charming at first but becomes quickly aggressive, and Miranda finds out the hard way he's not her date after all. After he brutally rapes her, William goes on the run but is almost immediately caught and brought to justice. Miranda is traumatized, naturally, but her ordeal has sparked something within her.
After some time goes by, Miranda begins sending letters to William, although most of them are returned by the prison (with Return to Sender stamped on the envelope, natch). When William ultimately decides he's ready to see her, she arrives playing the wounded lover, hurt but ready to forgive him. Later visits see her rev up the sex appeal, transforming into a sultry Hitchcock blonde armed with innuendo. William is, understandably, confused by her actions, but he finds himself uncontrollably seduced by her. When he announces that he's up for parole (the movie is never clear on just how much time goes by), Miranda is concerned but... enticed. When he inevitably shows up on her front door, she welcomes him with open arms. Is she really this prone to forgiveness, or is something else going on?
Unless you're an absolute idiot, the answer won't elude you. The main problem with RETURN TO SENDER is that it's all build up to a finale anyone could guess as soon as Miranda begins corresponding with William. We can't for a second believe Miranda actually cares for her reformed abuser, so the movie's attempts at acting coy are laughably wasted. When the conclusion does come around, it brings with it nothing we didn't expect, making the entire experience an utterly pointless and satisfaction-free revenge fantasy. Director Fouad Mikati stages his scenes in a stale, rote manner, and there's very little tension throughout, but the main culprit is the screenplay by Patricia Beauchamp and Jon Gossett, which doesn't even rise to the level of watchable TV movie.
Miranda is an odd character. Ostensibly our heroine, she's cold and unlikable, before and after the nightmarish first meeting with William. The movie seems to suggest Miranda is already capable of doling out punishment, hence the rape essentially sets her off on a course she takes to easily. It's an icky notion, and the movie never really recovers from it. Furthermore, some of Miranda's decisions as the film moves along reinforce the fact she's almost impossible to sympathize with, traumatized or not. You could chalk it up to a ballsy decision on the movie's part - after all, shouldn't we care if Miranda finds gratification? - but I tend to think it's a rather large miscalculation. The only character you may end up feeling anything for is Miranda's father, but Nolte is largely relegated to the sidelines.
Pike is really the only reason to see the film, but it's questionable whether or not she's worth the price of admission. The actress definitely gives her all to the role, but Miranda is a problematic, not very well thought-out creation, and Pike's efforts are mostly thankless. I'm guessing Pike would return this script to her agent if she could do it all over again.