2 out of 5 stars
Fresh off her breakthrough role in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike returns in the rape-revenge tale Return to Sender. Well, not really "returns." Fouad Mikati's film was actually shot before Gone Girl and now that Pike has garnered well-deserved acclaim, this Lifetime-style cheapo has been yanked from its shallow grave. Coincidentally, Return to Sender vibes like an amateur-hour Gone Girl, in which Pike gets to see-saw with our compassion while deftly playing a role with more layers than a French pastry. Her performance makes this film digestible, but also makes us yearn for her to receive better roles in the future.
Here she plays Miranda, a full-time nurse and part-time domestic deity. When she's not performing a tracheotomy in the local podunk diner, she's baking intricate cakes for her colleagues while dressed in vintage '50s dresses. She's like a two-legged time capsule of domesticity. When they question where she finds the time, Miranda replies, "It's just something I do." These quirks – the dresses, the cakes, her obsession with high-quality pens – would be fine if they felt organic to the story. They don't.
The thing is, Miranda doesn't need these quirky traits to feel like a complete character. Her relationship with her surly father (Nick Nolte) does the trick just fine. Their scenes together flirt with revealing the horrible things that happened to Miranda when she was younger – what happened to her mother, for example – so all these blanket quirks attributed to her are wildly arbitrary.
Begrudgingly, Miranda agrees to shed her monastic lifestyle for a blind date set up by her co-workers. Her presumed date, William (Shiloh Fernandez), rolls up early and proceeds to assault her, leaving her ruined on the kitchen floor for when her actual date shows up – the film's gravest twist.
What drama ensues throws us for a nice loop. Miranda begins visiting her attacker in jail as if she actually misses him. Once he's released (because, y'know, in America rapists have shorter sentences than dope dealers), Miranda encourages him to come around and help her build a porch. It's disturbing material, but it's the scenes in between these visits that drag Return to Sender down into laughable territory. Miranda proceeds to fumble at the game of Operation, act bizarre around her father – again, Nick Nolte, who consistently sounds like he's drowning in molasses – and perform tasks that underline the point: Maybe she was already crazy. Would that blow your mind?!?!
The writing is shoddy, but Pike plays it all wonderfully – exhibiting the genius she showed the world in Gone Girl. She's an actress who understands the less-is-more approach. She could act out the phonebook and make it seem like Tennessee Williams. In many scenes, without delivering an ounce of dialogue, Pike drips off the screen, leaving a puddle of expression at our feet. She deserves better than a film that inspires us to distrust her – like both Gone Girl and Return to Sender.
There are a couple of fun twists along the way, but the only reason to view this tolerable-at-best little thriller is Pike's performance. If you want to save yourself some trouble, just skip this one and rewatch Gone Girl.
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