Directed by Marc Webb
Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh
I’ll start this review with a confession: starting Gifted I came to the conclusion that what I am witnessing is a TV movie brought to the silver screen. For the majority the film’s hour-forty-minute runtime I was convinced this was the type of film that would premiere on Lifetime Movie Network and no one would bat an eye. I’m not saying Gifted is in any way a bad film – because it isn’t – I’m saying the film is too small to be seen on the big screen. Gifted isn’t a film that film that would sweep the Oscars, unless this is the stand-out by years end, but it does it’s job and takes you on an emotional ride. Writer Tom Flynn writes a predictable story with rich, relatable characters that give it’s two stars, Evans and Grace, an opportunity to shine.
After the death of his sister, Frank (Evans), takes in his niece Mary (Grace) whom he raises and home schools. The film opens on him sending her off to public school, a place that seems so foreign for the seven-year-old homeschooled savant. Met with protest from his neighbor/landlord (Spencer), Frank opts to send her anyway, adamant Mary needs to enjoy her time as a child, making friends with children her own age. Mary’s gifted mathematical mindsets her apart from her classmates, catching the attention of her teacher Bonnie (Slate) and her principal (Marvel).
Grace puts on a stunning display of child acting that reminded me of the early Dakota Fanning days of the early to mid-2000s. She delivers each line believably and left not one dry eye in my theater with her wide range of emotions, especially two gut-wrenching moments toward the end of the film.
When Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Duncan) re-enters her life, a fierce custody battle ensues over Mary’s guardianship and whether Frank or Evelyn is more suitable for her well-being.
Chris Evans, Captain America, and comic-book films aside, has been trying to prove himself to be a serious actor with roles in films such as The Iceman, Snowpiercer, and Puncture, and Gifted is no exception. While subtle, Evans performs acting juggling with Grace, making it insanely difficult if either one makes the other better, or if they both elevate each other.
Flynn, while creating such rich, well-rounded characters, crafts a script that feels quite dated. Gifted, at times, feels like the product of a 90s family drama that would have starred Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. His writing of Evelyn is by far the weakest of his main characters and is an overall unredeemable character. If Flynn would have made the custody battle evenly matched, it would have made for a much more powerful film and one that would have made it difficult for the audience to choose sides. Octavia Spencer’s Black and White made it morally difficult to decide if the little girl in that film was better suited with either of her grandparents. Except Lindsay Duncan’s Evelyn sometimes comes off as one-note, like an 80s villain in her ivory tower. Duncan’s scenes with Evans are some of the better scenes in the film, though we don’t spend too much time with both parties at their most cordial.
Flynn uses Frank’s philosophy background to good use in one scene where Mary asks if there is a god. The scene is poignant and beautifully shot against a setting sun. Frank’s response to her question show’s the philosophical education of that character. I would have liked to have some philosophical questions raised about which parent is better suited for rearing Mary. But with the entire film being one-sided and Duncan’s character being so unlikeable, it made the film predictable.
Like in Hidden Figures, I felt Octavia Spencer was outperformed by her little co-star, however, that could be due to her role being reduced to a side character providing little impact on the story as a whole.
For all it’s faults, which are minor, Gifted is a good film with a whole lot of heart and terrific performances from its two leads. I can’t recommend rushing out and seeing this in theaters as the small scope of the film warrants a video-on-demand rental in the coming months.