Perhaps stung by the unfairly hostile reception to his “Amazing Spider-Man” movies, Marc Webb returns to cinemas with “Gifted”, a decidedly smaller scale and more intimate movie about a child genius.
Frank (Chris Evans) looks after his 7 year old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), a mathematical prodigy. Frank has cared for her since her mother – herself a brilliant mathematician – tragically committed suicide when Mary was a baby. Reluctantly, Frank decides to enrol Mary in the local school so she can make friends her own age but its not long before her gifts draw the attention of educators and eventually Frank’s estranged mother, who is determined to take Mary and ensure she lives up to her potential.
There’s a gentleness to “Gifted” which, while it deals with a potent, emotionally charged subject, prevents it from dropping into melodrama. It may be somewhat predictable and a touch contrived but Chris Evans’ sincere and earnest performance coupled with an astonishingly accomplished performance from Mckenna Grace are so touchingly beautiful that they shine brightly enough to obscure the film’s flaws. To its credit, the film is surprisingly even-handed in its treatment of the central question of whether an individual has a responsibility to realise their fullest potential, no matter what the consequences to their own happiness and contentment.
Writer Tom Flynn struggles, though, to give Frank’s mother Evelyn quite enough humanity to make her genuinely believable. There’s an awkward moment or two as the script has to accommodate a quick explanation of why Frank’s mother is English (she’s played with a steely frostiness by Lindsay Duncan) and there are occasions where she strays perilously close to cartoonish Cruella De Villainy. The role Frank’s landlord and friend Roberta utterly wastes the talents of Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate gets just as little to do as Mary’s teacher. Ultimately, though, it works because we’re so invested in Frank and Mary’s happiness that any disruption to their relationship brings a tear to the eye.
“Gifted” is a movie about deciding between heart and head and dealing with consequences, both of the past and for the future. In the end, everyone is a little bit wiser, a little bit more compassionate and, in some way, gets what they needed most.