Gifted is the new drama directed by Marc Webb and stars Chris Evans, Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace, Octavia Spencer and Lindsay Duncan.
This is one of those very sweet movies about conflicts which don’t happen to your average Joe but which are portrayed in those terms and where everything resolves in a sort of best of all possible worlds way and everyone lives happily ever after. Now is that always a bad story to tell? No, it’s not. Despite the stereotypes and predictable plot elements all laid out in a row, falling one by one like a row of dominoes, Gifted still manages to be highly entertaining and engaging, with a few solid performances by Chris Evans as the father figure, Frank Adler, and Lindsay Duncan as his mother, Evelyn, fighting for custody of the seven-year old genius math prodigy, little Mary Adler played by Mckenna Grace. And it’s Mckenna who really steals this show with her precocious, know-it-all attitude yet who still is very much a sweet and innocent little girl. It is that innocence and sweetness that her father wants to protect by giving her as much of a normal life as he can, despite recognizing that her intellectual gifts are deserving of something more.
The film doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to the central conflict after quickly building up who is who and what the various relationships are. We find Frank repairing boats in Florida and raising Mary in a trailer park, yet he’s actually quite smart himself and was a philosophy professor in his pre-Mary life. He likes the quieter and more secluded life he has created for them but knows that Mary needs social interaction and tries sending her off to school. Multiple levels of shenanigans ensue as her teachers quickly come to recognize she doesn’t belong in the first grade and grandmother appears back on the scene to try to rescue her from what she thinks is a deadbeat life.
Predictable, emotional tear-jerkers like Gifted are a dime a dozen so the thing that is going to raise any of these above the fray and make them worth going out and spending money to see is the quality of the performances and any originality they can bring to the formula. In this case, I already mentioned solid performances from the leads and there is also a more intelligent script than usual, with Frank truly struggling with whether he is making the right decisions in raising this special little girl. Mary is not his daughter but is his niece, basically turned over to him the night his sister, a child prodigy math genius herself, committed suicide. Her actual father was nowhere to be found and Frank knows that his mother was a big part of the reason for his sister’s suicide in the first place so he takes Mary in and raises her himself.
In terms of negatives, there are two supporting characters who should have had larger roles here. They are not wasted, as they do their parts to prop the story along but after they were introduced I expected to see more of them. The first is Octavia Spencer as Frank and Mary’s friend in the trailer park and the second is Jenny Slate as Frank’s love interest and Mary’s first grade teacher. They pop up, do their bits and then disappear just as quickly.
I was surprised to see that director Marc Webb was the same one who brought us the 2012 reboot of The Amazing Spider Man and its sequel in 2014. This is a far cry from an action film but he has a surprisingly slow and steady hand here, actually hearkening back to his directorial debut, (500) Days of Summer with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Technically, I had no problems with the layout or editing and although the film was shot in Georgia, it comes across well enough as Florida with some really nice cinematograpy.
Because of the solid work of everyone involved and a stand-out performance by Mckenna Grace, I think most people are going to enjoy the hell out of this movie and I’m giving it a rating of Pretty Good. See it for yourself and let me know what you think. If you haven’t yet done so, now’s a great time to subscribe to my channel and please do like and share this video around the interwebs. Thank you for watching.