Published on June 16th, 2017 | by voxx0
Out: 16 June
Length: 101 minutes
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsey Duncan
Plot: Frank (Evans), a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary (Grace), is drawn into a custody battle with his formidable mother, Evelyn (Duncan) after she discovers Mary’s abilities in mathematics.
Gifted children. They’re adorable. Clever beyond their years and inertly sweet. They’re also a rarity to see, not only in the natural world but in the glitz and glam world of film too. There are, of course, a few examples of this shown in other movies – notably ‘Little Man Tate’, ‘Good Will Hunting’ and Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’. All of these were successful in their material, cleverly writing around these characters, deftly handling them with emotional heft, and finally proving their brain power on the screen. There aren’t enough films like that.
Director Marc Webb, who has shown his loyalty to the big screen with his hilarious debut ’500 Days of Summer’, before taking a heroic turn with both of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ films, proves his way again with ‘Gifted’, an inertly sweet drama about a young mathematics prodigy. Analogy aside, like the previous gifted child examples it’s cleverly written around two normal human beings. There’s single man Frank (Evans), sporting a Captain America hairstyle and a rugged goatee. He lives a relatively simple life as a freelance boat repairman in a modest Florida apartment, joined by a cat with only one eye and his high spirited young niece, seven-year-old Mary (Grace) – who within the first few minutes of the film shows her brain power.
Mary may be young but she is outstandingly clever, working at a level over double her own age. This later comes to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn (Duncan) who wants to enroll the youngster at a school for gifted children. Frank, however, wants otherwise; he just wants her to be a normal kid and have the life that her mother would want.
The premise is ‘I Am Sam’ meets ‘Matilda’. It works, for a while at least, but the film does suffer from problems. Firstly, a subtle problem; the scripting is clever but there are a few lines that don’t quite match with the film’s inert sweetness – it’s small but over time this becomes more noticeable thus dragging the film’s tender moments. The bigger problem comes in the film’s second act – for a while the material here has the right impact deftly carrying more emotion, through more dramatically impacting feelings and more love. Sadly, this is squandered by custody hearings with Frank and Evelyn. Perhaps this is used for a stronger purpose but the problems with the editing sadly bring it down. That said, the problems are quickly glossed over by the nuances of family ties – adding more drama between the two leads.
And it’s here when the third and final point rings true; there is more emotional heft that surrounds the characters. Though nothing significant happens in the second act, thanks to the fantastic lead performances the film doesn’t fully lose its bearings. Evans is sensational but it’s the charismatic Grace who lifts the film and really earns her casting. She quickly proves to be the crowning glory, the attachment with her co-star, through the emotional heft, and the pathos that she leaves. Child actors are only ever as good as their director, but here she stands above the others in a phenomenal performance – topping the film’s always sensational veteran actors Octavia Spencer and Duncan.
Indeed, it’s not perfect due to the drop in the second act, but thanks to the flawless performances, emotional heft and good old fashioned sweetness. This is an enjoyable drama, and it narrowly joins the gifted child film hall of fame.
VERDICT: Gifted’s plot is indeed nothing spectacular or memorable, but thanks to fantastic performances by both leads it’s an enjoyable drama about extraordinary human beings.
By Corey Denford