Before being tapped to helm Sony’s rebooted Spider-Man franchise in 2012, director Marc Webb was known for his indy darling, 500 Days of Summer. Now with Spider-Man in the hands of the MCU, Webb has returned with another indy film that while a tad by the books, is an enjoyable and emotional film. The new film is Gifted, which tells the story of a mathematically gifted child, and the two people at odds over how to raise her. Starring Chris Evans, and Mckenna Grace, the young actress who plays the gifted youngster.
Evans’ Frank is the primary caregiver, and Uncle, of Grace’s Mary, a young girl with a brilliant mind for math. Frank is determined to raise Mary as normally as possible, away from the private schools, and the pressures of being advanced. Once Mary attends her first day of first grade however, others begin to notice Mary’s gifts, and the life Frank and Mary knew begins to change. The conflict in the film comes from Mary’s Grandmother Evelyn, who doesn’t see eye to eye with Frank on how the child should be raised. Her and Frank clearly have their own issues, as they are anything but, a loving mother and son. What keeps the film interesting is not necessarily the story beats, it’s more that both parties have valid reasons for wanting to raise Mary, though the film clearly paints Evelyn’s point of view as a more malicious side to take. The greater issue which doesn’t get nearly enough time devoted to it is that both Frank and Evelyn are trying to raise Mary as a way of coping with their own relationships to Mary’s Mom. Not all of the elements work in the best way, but the film is consistently enjoyable, sweet, emotional, and funny. There are a number of laugh out loud moments, even from Evelyn who you wouldn’t expect, given her antagonist role. Gifted does a great job balancing the different tones throughout, as it is funny and sweet when it needs to be, but emotional and dramatic when the story calls for it.
The acting from all involved is particularly great, with Grace being the notable standout. The relative newcomer to film is able to do everything needed to portray this character, and her mix of high intelligence, and precocious child, constantly at odds with adults was a highlight of the film. Grace has many of the funniest lines in the movie, and is able to pull them while remaining convincing as a gifted child. Her chemistry with Evans is also a high spot, as the two have a strong bond, and are a believable family unit. Evans is great here as well, though his brooding loner type character, is a little too on the nose for an indy film. His best moments in the film are not the ones where he is looking off in the distance with a contemplative look on his face, but in his interactions with others, including all of the scenes with Grace. Lindsay Duncan plays Evelyn, and she perfectly captures the overbearing parent that would drive a wedge between herself and her son. While she is clearly made out to be the bad guy of the film, Duncan is able to elements that show that she may not have always been the cold and calculating person the audience is presented with. The film could have spent more time with her character, but understandably it doesn’t want to make Evelyn a too sympathetic character, seeing as she is at odds with the main characters. The rest of the supporting cast is made up of Octavia Spencer, and Jenny Slate, and while both are not too involved in the film, their characters and performances round out the film, and give the Frank and Mary side of things two more supporters in their fight, while also being able to share in the more emotional moments in the film. Special mention should also go to Mary’s one eyed cat Fred, who is adorable in every scene, and helps complete the unconventional family that Frank and Mary have.
There are plenty of things to like about Gifted, and the talented cast carries a film that is pretty formulaic, which only detracts a little bit from the overall product. There are moments in the film that seem less believable than intended, and some of the aspects of Mary’s character are a little too far-fetched. While the film does focus more on moment to moment aspects, it is a little predictable, even if you are not trying to guess what’s next. The film also suffers from a few different scenes towards the end that feel like endings, but are then followed by another scene, which is a little disjointed. Overall though, Gifted is a heartwarming story, with a fantastic young actress at the forefront. The adults are all great as well, and despite some the shortcomings of the story, Marc Webb’s return to the independent dramedy is a success.