Hot Take: Sweet film with its heart in the right place. Chris Evans shows a little range and Mckenna Grace steals the show as Mary. You’ll laugh, you might cry, you’ll smile.
2017 has been an odd year for movies. So far, there haven’t been many home runs. MHT hasn’t given any movie more than 4 stars with Logan at the top of the heap. There haven’t been many complete strike outs, either. While Rings, Sleepless, Collide and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter were all awful, they all somehow managed to squeeze out a 1/2 star rating. While 2017 hasn’t produced anything that’ll be hanging around in the top 15 movies of the year so far, there have been plenty of above average movies worth seeing that would be considered a single or double if we continue the baseball analogy. Gifted is one of those above average movies.
Frank (Chris Evans) is the uncle of Mary (Mckenna Grace), an extraordinary young girl with mathematical talents well beyond the normal 7 year old. Frank has taken Mary under his care after his sister — Mary’s mother — committed suicide. Hiding out in a small Florida community, Frank has homeschooled Mary for her first 7 years but he decides to send her to public school where Mary’s talents are recognized by her teacher (Jenny Slate) and brought to the attention of the principal. Pressure mounts on Frank after the principal wants to get Mary into a prestigious school for the gifted and Frank declines. Out of nowhere, Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) swoops in to fight Frank for custody of the young girl as she sees Mary as her chance to fix the mistakes she made with her daughter who was also a gifted mathematician whom Evelyn pushed to be great and might have pushed to end her life.
If this sounds formulaic, you’re right. It is. It’s a straightforward film that doesn’t have many twists and turns going from Point A to Point B. Sometimes, though, that’s okay. Gifted is an example of an instance where it’s okay to be straightforward. Grace is a breakout young star. She gives one of the best performances from a youngster in recent memory. If she continues to get solid roles, she’ll continue to shine. Evans ditches the Captain America outfit and shows he’s capable of more with a convincing performance as a caring uncle who isn’t afraid to admit he might be doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Some of the supporting characters get a little lost but both the previously mentioned Slate and Duncan along with Octavia Spencer, Frank’s neighbor who acts as a surrogate parent when Frank needs a night off, do deliver when asked.
What makes Gifted stand out above other films with similar storylines are a few key scenes that are wonderfully written by Tom Flynn. There are a handful of scenes that give this file a depth that films like it usually don’t have. After Mary finds out that her birth father was in town but didn’t even want to see her, Frank decides to take Mary to the hospital for reasons unknown both to Mary and the audience. After a while, Frank tells Mary to watch as a father comes out to tell his waiting family that there’s a new family member. He then tells Mary that’s what it looked like when she was born and he came out to tell everyone. In writing, it sounds a little corny but the scene is filled with so much genuine happiness and heart, it’s touching even in recall.
Gifted avoids going down the path of a Hallmark or Lifetime movie (I’m not sure which one is worse) and instead establishes itself as a more genuine version of a familiar plot. On the shoulders of great performances and a few nuances that others of its ilk lack, Gifted joins an expanding group of good but not great 2017 films that wouldn’t hurt to see if you’re looking for a film that might moisten the tear ducts and deliver some wrinkle lines from smiling at the same time. If anything, Grace is worth a look see as she proves to be a gifted acting talent and a constant scene stealer throughout the film.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- A Directorial Comeback of Sorts
Director Marc Webb followed up a strong directorial début of (500) Days of Summer with The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s much maligned sequel. It’s nice to see him get back to something closer to the promise he showed in his breakout début with Gifted.
- Emotionally Balanced
It would have been easy for this film to try and coax more tears than anything from its audience. However, there’s enough charming, sweet and even some levity that you typically don’t get from movies which push for tears.
Who is Fred? Fred is Mary’s one eyed cat who does exactly what pets usually do: Steal every scene they are in.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Octavia Spencer
Spencer isn’t bad in the film. It feels more like she’s wasted here. There’s a sense that there was a bigger part for her that somehow landed on the cutting room floor as she’s often there in the background but seemingly not there at the same time. When she is there, Spencer gives her usual more than adequate performance but often she’s not really there.
- The Obligatory Misunderstood Honesty of a Child
While praising writer Flynn for giving us a number of scenes we haven’t seen in a film like Gifted, there’s a scene where Mary is sent to a psychologist to evaluate her home life. Of course, Mary is completely honest and, of course, the audience gets the feeling that maybe the psychologist isn’t happy with Mary’s way too honest responses of watching UFC with Frank on Saturdays and having a best friend who is a neighbor in her 40s.