GIFTED 9 out of 10; Directed by Marc Webb; Written by Tom Flynn; Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Lindsey Duncan and Jenny Slate; Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material; Running time 81 minutes; In wide release April 12, 2017.
Sometimes simplicity is best. Present a basic idea and instead of surrounding it with excessive frivolities, just allow the actors to tell a story that, even if a bit predictable, is engaging and endearing. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) makes Gifted an example of this, and while it’s sadly one that it seems to be flying under the radar, it’s one that will leave people with a smile on their face and tears in their eyes.
Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is doing his best in a role he never expected – fatherhood. After losing his sister to suicide, he has become the de-facto guardian of her daughter, Mary (McKenna Grace), a bright and precocious child who just might be a prodigy. Mary’s mother was one of the brightest mathematicians on earth, and that gift was passed down as Mary exhibits the same incredible intelligence. When Mary is offered a scholarship at a rigorous and excellent school, Frank turns it down in the hopes of following through on his sister’s last wish that Mary be allowed to grow up a normal kid. This comes to the attention of his own mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who believes Frank unfit to raise her and is holding her granddaughter back. This sets off a tense custody battle between them as to who should decide the future of a young girl who could grow up to change the world.
There are definite twists and turns along the way, but the essence of Gifted is very simple. By focusing on what matters instead of trying to “enrich” the story, the result is stronger and much more interesting for it. And most of this is due to the incredibly strong performances from a very talented cast.
The heart and soul is McKenna Grace. Known mainly for her roles on television, she gives a nuanced and powerful performance of a young girl trying to figure out life in a world that doesn’t understand her. She manages to perfectly walk the line of just being a normal kid who wants to watch SpongeBob as well as one with sensibilities that are beyond even the smartest adults in the room. She can be stubborn and demanding one second and then wise the next. Such a task is hard to accomplish, and she does so with finesse. Easily the best of the bunch, it is exciting to think what she will do going forward as she shows formidable potential.
Not to be outdone, Chris Evans also brings some of his best as the unsure father figure trying to simply do his best in a job he didn’t expect or always want. While he doesn’t excel as much as in Snowpiercer, he deftly proves he is leading man material and just at home raising a child as he is fighting Hydra.
Octavia Spencer is also brilliant as his landlord / best friend who is one of the few people to support him and give him the advice he so desperately needs. Her screen time may be limited, but her talent elevates the movie even higher every time she is there.
The one misstep is Jenny Slate as Bonnie, Mary’s teacher and eventual love interest for Frank. It’s not that she does a bad job, just that the film can’t figure out what to do with her. She plays catalyst, confidant, and lover but is never given the time to develop more out of those roles than the bare necessity.
There is something truly magical about Gifted that has been lacking in movies of late. Sometimes less is more, and that is proven with a story that essentially shows that good things will happen to good people even if the ride along the way is bumpy and takes a detour or two. While it’s not going to change the world or make a radical statement about humanity, Gifted shows that hope is alive and well and something everyone can use in their lives.
9 out of 10