The path to a well-rounded life is not singular. Many people can attribute their success to having ample wealth or struggling to get by. Yearning to achieve the best knowledge and experiences by climbing the social and economic ladder, or having the best tutors show you the exact way to prosperity and achievement. Whether you come from humble beginnings or are born with a silver spoon, the common denominator for a healthy life is that confidence instilled upon you by your friends and family. Confidence that enables you to take your future and your dreams into your own hands, but also the confidence to seek happiness and tranquility. You’ll always struggle with fear, hesitation, and uncertainty, but your chances of overcoming these moments become greater when you’ve developed a healthy, determined perspective about the world.
In Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a brilliant 7-year old girl living in Florida. Following the suicide of her mother six years ago, she was left in the care of her uncle Frank (Chris Evans). Mary has the ability to solve rudimentary math problems in seconds, but she can also solve complex equations that even math professors would find challenging. When Frank sends Mary to school for the first time, she is not thrilled and finds the work incredibly simple. As she struggles to fit in, her intelligence attracts the attention of the faculty and eventually, Mary’s grandma Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) is contacted to convince Frank to send her to a special school for gifted children. Frank’s hesitance to uproot her normal childhood leads to a child custody battle that could determine the shape of Mary’s future. Frank makes a decent living as a boat repairman, but the resources Evelyn can provide in Boston are immense. Frank must determine if keeping Mary, and postponing her higher education, is really the best for her; or if he just simply can’t bear to see her go.
The movie starts off fairly well. We are introduced to this incredibly precocious, opinionated little girl with lots of spirit and attitude. Her best friend is a much older neighbor named Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who loves Mary just as much as Frank and babysits her any chance she gets. The interactions between Mary, Frank, and Roberta are my favorite parts and I enjoy seeing this unorthodox family get along, bicker, and help each other out.
When the grandmother is introduced, this movie suddenly turns into a court case and you hope that Mary is going to a good home no matter what the judge decides, but Evelyn barely shows any semblance of warmth. She seems firmly invested in Mary’s future, but for academic purposes only. It makes it hard not to see this situation as black and white, but that plays into the story as we learn more about Mary’s mother.
Another character that plays a role in Mary’s life is her teacher Bonnie, played by Jenny Slate. Bonnie offers her own opinions on how Frank should proceed and becomes closer to the family as time goes on, but I found her involvement to be unnecessary and a distraction from the heart of the story. She was obviously inputted so the audience could get to know Frank better and what his motivations are, but I felt that only sidelined Octavia Spencer’s character, whose scenes in this movie feel truncated. I love Jenny Slate and get a kick out of everything she does, but I didn’t like how she was used in this film.
The story is pleasant enough, but it does at times follow a paint-by-numbers method. There are no real surprises throughout the movie, besides maybe the ending. You can tell when the jokes are going to come and how the scenes will play out before they happen. I would have liked more scenes of Mary in her everyday life if only to enjoy more of her onscreen, and less of the drama between Frank and Evelyn, although some of those tense exchanges were fun. Also when you watch Chris Evans, it’s not unlike watching Steve Rogers in a less heroic role and with dad responsibilities. I didn’t see a lot of range, but I enjoyed his acting and how he played this character with more real-life stress.
Any movie with a child as one of the lead characters hinges on that child’s performance. Mckenna Grace does a great job portraying a kid with ambition, tenacity, and a fierce curiosity. The emotional core of her character is brilliantly conveyed and I was invested in all of her scenes.
Gifted isn’t going to blow you away with its story, or its take on the uncle and niece family dynamic, but it has heart and it makes you care about Frank and Mary. It also somehow makes you care about Mary’s mother, who has no presence in this film besides a few photos and notes. I enjoyed the chemistry between Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace as well as between Mckenna and Octavia Spencer. Jenny Slate is also wonderful. The script isn’t the best and the pacing sometimes made me lose interest, but the performances made the scenes work. I recommend seeing this at a matinee or online when it’s available.
Synopsis: Frank, a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary, is drawn into a custody battle with his mother.
Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Tom Flynn
Stars: Jenny Slate, Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 1 Hour, 41 Minutes