Gifted is an unashamed tear-jerker but a surprisingly effective one. It falls into the vulnerable kid genius sub-genre along with films like Little Man Tate although, refreshingly, the wunderkind here is a little girl.
Mary (McKenna Grace) is a seven-year-old orphan who has lived with her mechanic uncle Frank (Captain America’s Chris Evans) since her mathematician mother’s death. Home-schooled for most of her life she’s required to attend a regular primary school where it becomes apparent to teacher (Bonnie Stevenson) that Mary is a maths genius. Facing pressure to send Mary to an elite private school for gifted children, Frank also finds himself in a custody battle for Mary with his estranged Mother, Evelyn (British actress Lindsay Duncan). The film transforms into a low-key but compelling court room drama as Frank is forced to defend his and Mary’s unconventional family arrangement.
This could have been clichéd mid-day movie fodder and a few telemovie elements surface but an insightful script by Tom Flynn and strong performances from the entire cast raise it above the typical family drama. Particularly good is Lindsay Duncan as Evelyn, who despite being that staple of Hollywood cinema, the evil snooty English person, brings nuance and intelligence to her character. Octavia Spencer is also typically excellent as Frank’s neighbour and landlady Roberta who has no qualms about laying some cold hard truths on the equivocating Frank. Young McKenna Grace, who has some of the precociousness of a young Dakota Fanning, also convinces as a clever but emotionally confused child trying to cope with the storm swirling around her.
Director Marc Webb adopts a restrained and somewhat prosaic visual style but he manages to conjure some genuinely distressing scenes as Frank and Mary are dragged apart.
There’s nothing revelatory about this film and some of it will feel a little too reminiscent of other family dramas but the strength of its writing and performances make it one of the year’s more welcome surprises.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2.
Director(s): Marc Webb.
Release date: 31st Aug 2017.
Running time: 101 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show