Jacob Richardson | 28/08/2017
It may seem relatively familiar, but Gifted relies heavily on it’s tremendous cast and their incredibly natural performances to give us an enjoyable and emotional film.
Gifted follows Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his titularly gifted niece Mary Adler (McKenna Grace). Mary is a genius. She is incredibly gifted at mathematics, and this leads to some trouble in her small Floridian school. Her teacher takes an interest in her, eventually discovering that her mother committed suicide, leaving Frank to take care of the young, spectacular child. When the school principal calls Mary’s grandmother, Frank finds himself in the midst of a custody battle with his mother that dredges up unfortunate incidents from the past, and ultimately asks the question of what is important in a childhood.
The film isn’t anything we haven’t seen before; this sun-soaked drama centred around a man we all know is in the right, fighting for something as idyllic as a “real childhood”, with an enemy who advocates for “necessary evil”. The picture even has the traditional manufactured tension in the form of Frank questioning his own point of view. Nevertheless, this incredible cast manages to wring something interesting and engaging out of the otherwise standard script.
A bearded Chris Evans brings a brooding, introspective atmosphere to the down-on-his-luck philosopher Frank. He’s lovable, but there is a deep intelligence there that people can see bubbling under the surface; something that gives his argument, that Mary should “be a kid”, weight. Meanwhile, his mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) is given a much harder edge. Duncan brings a hint of compassion there, and some underlying understanding of her failings as a mother, which makes the ending so much more powerful, as Duncan gives a barnstorming virtuoso performance as she realises her true nature.
At the end of the day, it’s Mary’s show though. McKenna Grace, as the toothless mathematical whizz, is a bubble of joy that floats through the films dull moments and lifts the film up. It’s at moments like one early on, where a Chris Evans silhouetted against the sunset is explaining God and faith to young Mary, that Grac shines - clawing and climbing her way over her uncle, bringing a levity and humor to an otherwise stagnant scene. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud more than you expected going into a familial drama about child custody.
The material doesn’t quite live up to the casts bravura performance. It’s too often stagnant and stale. We’ve seen it all before, and director Marc Webb focuses on the characterization and the tension between family members, more so than providing a compelling narrative. While it certainly enhances the quality of the interplay between the actors, it does little to propel the story forward, at times leaving the film to languish in the Floridian landscape. It also doesn’t help that the cinematography feels amateurish at times.
Gifted is more of a character study than a well-rounded story, but while director Marc Webb may not have given a particular visual or narrative spectacle, he does give his actors room to breath - and with it, they create some incredible characters and foster some genuine, engaging interplay between those characters.