Directed by: Marc Webb
Premise: A single man (Chris Evans) gets into a custody battle over his seven-year-old niece (Mckenna Grace). The little girl is a math prodigy but the uncle wants her to have a normal childhood whereas the grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) wants to maximize her gift.
What Works: Gifted is a nice movie. It benefits a genuine good heartedness and it’s funny and compelling enough to expand the movie’s appeal beyond the predictable audience for a film like this. Aside from a few melodramatic moments in the ending, a lot of this film avoids unnecessary sentimentality. Gifted was directed by Marc Webb whose best work has been movies like (500) Days of Summer; he does human relationship stories well. Gifted is primarily about an orphaned young girl and the uncle charged with her care. The relationship between these two is the heart of the movie and on that level the film is successful. The movie has a great cast and the standout performance is provided by Mckenna Grace as the young girl who has an extraordinary aptitude for mathematics. This character is a challenging one to play in that she has exceptional intellectual abilities but she also has the social skills of a seven-year-old. Mckenna Grace’s performance conveys both the intelligence and the emotional vulnerability of her character. She is smart in an intellectual way but the character isn’t precocious. She can outperform adults in math but she has the emotional needs of a child and she comes across as a genuine character. Grace conveys the paradoxical nature of this girl in a way that is engaging and empathetic. She is also very funny and the young actress shows impressive comic timing. Grace is paired with Chris Evans as the uncle. Evans isn’t exactly stretching himself as an actor but he does do a good job in the role as an uncle who has unwittingly become a parent. He is haunted by guilt over the suicide of his sister and Evans and the script gradually reveal why he insists upon giving his niece an ordinary childhood.
What Doesn’t: Gifted presents a compelling scenario but the way Gifted is made reduces everything to very simple conflicts and it’s always obvious whose side the filmmakers are on. The grandmother is characterized as a stifling shrew who is prepared to sacrifice the child’s well being in the pursuit of mathematical greatness while the uncle is presented as a blue-collar guy who just wants what is best for her. The movie glosses over critical details about the girl’s home life, such as the fact that Chris Evans’ character has no health insurance and regularly spends his nights at a bar. The filmmakers also skim over the flaws of his plans for his niece. He is primarily concerned with seeing that this girl becomes a psychologically healthy person who is able to function in society. He does that by putting his niece into a school that’s intellectually beneath her. This is likely to be just as isolating as a school for gifted children and create just as many psychological problems for her. The filmmakers don’t deal with the complex nature of the problem. Gifted also suffers from a story that is drawn in too many different directions. The custody battle monopolizes the screen time but the most urgent matter is whether this girl can make friends and develop into a socialized human being. The story tends to push all that to the side. The film also wastes its subplots. The schoolteacher played by Jenny Slate enters into a romance with Chris Evans’ character but this doesn’t really go anywhere while Octavia Spencer is entirely wasted in the role of a sassy black friend. These subplots don’t provide any insight or opportunities to enhance the themes of the story and so they are padding that just makes the movie longer.
Bottom Line: Gifted is a satisfying family drama. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to do something more complex but they have made a solid piece of entertainment that does exactly what it is intended to do. Gifted also has an exceptional performance by Mckenna Grace.
Episode: #645 (April 30, 2017)