Gifted (2017)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Marc Webb
  • Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan


Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy – his spirited young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) in a coastal town in Florida. Frank’s plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the seven-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary. Octavia Spencer plays Roberta, Frank and Mary’s landlady and best friend. Jenny Slate is Mary’s teacher, Bonnie, a young woman whose concern for her student develops into a connection with her uncle as well.

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  • A return to small-scale filmmaking for director Marc Webb after helming 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man and its 2014 sequel, Gifted is a warm-hearted family drama that may not transcend the predictability of its narrative but nevertheless satisfies due to its winning cast and emotionally moving, if unabashedly manipulative, tale.

    Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) is a six-year-old living in a Florida coastal town with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans), who repairs boats for a living. She’s about to attend her first day of school, though she’s highly reluctant. Why can’t Frank just keep home-schooling her? Who’ll take care of their one-eyed cat Fred? Frank shuts down her objections, sees her onto the school bus, and says, “Be a kid.” His landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer) worries about his decision, what if someone comes to take Mary away?

    Roberta has cause for concern as Mary, much to her first grade teacher Bonnie’s (Jenny Slate, ever charming) amazement, possesses extraordinary math skills that place her levels above her peers. Yet this is exactly why Frank insists on teaching Mary to be a normal child – she needs to get out in the world, develop social skills, make friends, and just enjoy being a kid instead of following in the footsteps of her mother, a mathematical genius who lived her life dedicated to solving one of the most insoluble mathematical problems before committing suicide when Mary was six months old. His wealthy and domineering mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), from whom he’s been estranged for possibly longer than Mary has been alive, believes otherwise, pointing out that treating Mary like a normal child is “negligence on a grand scale.” Their custody battle and its ensuing fallout provide the dramatic engine of the film.

    Screenwriter Tom Flynn certainly knows how to tug at the heartstrings, most especially when an anguished Mary pleads with Frank not to leave her. Yet there are also scenes such as Frank taking Mary to a hospital so she can learn a life lesson that are so nakedly engineered that they end up being cloying rather than touching. Flynn’s script obviously positions Evelyn as the villain, but Duncan breathes dimensions into the character who, as one learns in one of the screenplay’s (too) many reveals, sacrificed her own mathematical genius in favour of marriage and motherhood. In fact, she and Evans do such an excellent job depicting the myriad of complications that both bond and separate Evelyn and Frank that one wishes that Flynn had narrowed his focus to their thorny dynamics rather than add unnecessary characters such as a foster family or even Spencer’s no-nonsense Roberta.

    Evans radiates decency and humanity as well as rumpled sexiness as Frank. He and the extremely talented Grace share a natural warmth and connection that lends weight to Frank’s conflict.

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