Gifted Movie Review

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By: Andrew Clarke (@AwaitingAndrew)

Gifted stars Chris Evans as the uncle and caregiver of a seven-year-old prodigy named Mary Adler (McKenna Grace). Evans’ character, Frank, is determined to give his brilliant niece the normal life he believes his deceased sister would have wanted for her daughter, despite others – namely the girl’s grandmother – trying to take her away to a school for gifted students.

Directed by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, (500) Days of Summer), the film takes off right from the start, as the rising action of the plot is bundled with the exposition of getting to know these characters at home. We begin the film as Mary is preparing for her first day of first grade. Frank had previously been homeschooling his niece so as to shield her brilliance from the public, but has decided she should get out and interact with other kids her age. This is much to the dismay of their neighbor, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who keeps Mary every Friday night until Saturday afternoon, and worries what might happen once school officials get light that Mary is the brightest kid her age.

And that doesn’t take long. On the first day, Mary mocks her teacher, played by Jenny Slate, over the simple addition problems she’s posing to the class – and then solves complex multiplication in her head. And from that point on, the film is a sort of character story posed around the question of what’s best for the child – ultimately in the hands of a court judge, as two lawyers pose their cases on behalf of both sides, one trying to keep the child with Frank in the life she currently knows and the other with intent to take her away and put her in a school for gifted students.

While the film’s plot doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the theater, the way Gifted is told and the people behind it bring it to incredible life. If your familiarity with the film career of Chris Evans begins and ends with Captain America or perhaps only extends to Fantastic Four a decade prior, fix that now. With Steve Rogers, Evans has brought life to a character that I otherwise might not be so invested in among the other Marvel heroes, and that’s a testament to his performance time and time again in the role. But I would say my favorite performance of his comes from his 2015 directorial debut, Before We Go, a simple story at the surface but acted and directed in such a way that it is a near phenomenal film. The same is largely true for Gifted.

Evans puts his all into this role, truly diving deep into his character and finding the emotion needed to make such a character as interesting as he possibly can. Frank’s not perfect. He knows it and never shies away from that fact. But he loves his niece above all else and despite his doubts and fears that whatever choice he makes will ruin Mary’s life, he believes giving her a chance at normal life at home with him and attending a regular school is what’s best.

Evans is tremendous as always, and that does a lot for the film. But as the title Gifted suggests, the film is about the girl, Mary, and not necessarily her uncle. Thankfully, the casting director found a girl, McKenna Grace, who shines alongside Evans on the big screen. It’s a powerfully believable performance from a child actor and one of the best performances I’ve seen so far this year. I’m pleased to see yet another great performance from a young actor in the early months of 2017, following in Dafne Keen in Logan and Sunny Pawar in Lion. I only hope she continues her career along this path so audiences can see more from her, rather than falling alongside other brilliant child performances where critics unfortunately often point to their one defining role when they don’t continue on in other films.

I personally thought Marc Webb did a great job with The Amazing Spider-Man films – any issues lie with the studio. That being said, they don’t hold a candle to the incredible work on (500) Days of Summer, so I was quite excited to see him return to an original work with Gifted. There are some awe-inspiring shots in what is, on the surface, a seemingly unremarkable film, namely a sunset beach conversation between Frank and his niece as she ponders on the existence of God. (Frank’s response in itself is equally noteworthy.) Webb’s involvement helps to bring this film to a higher level.

Overall, Webb handles directing the script about a brilliant young girl and her uncle like a master, and, along with impressive work from Evans and Grace, quickly gets the audience invested in thinking about the dilemma at hand. Should the next potential Albert Einstein have a normal childhood where he or she can interact with regular people of the same age, or should the focus be on the potential for great things to come, even if it means the child will never have a normal life?


    One Comment

  1. Yunnie KimApril 25th, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I was going to write a review on this movie as well; you beat me to it 🙂

    I thought this movie was very well done. As I have seen almost every Chris Evans movie out there (I had a phase of binge-watching certain celebrities in movies), this was a new role for him that was well done; I felt like he really internalized the character. And simply put, who doesn’t love Octavia Spencer or Jenny Slate? McKenna Grace was amazing. I can see that girl going far in the future.

    In answer to your question, I think normal was never a thing in her life. That being said, her normal life may not be typically what a 6 year old would experience, but I did like the ending of the movie — without any spoilers, I think they did a great job of showing that a child needs and deserves a normal life. 🙂

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