Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate
It’s great to have director Marc Webb back to original content after a two-movie stint in the Marvel universe. Gifted is a film we have seen time and time again, two parties fighting over a child’s best interest. This story also has the child genius factor like last year’s hit Hidden Figures, also starring Octavia Spencer. While embracing many of the stereotypes we’ve watched play out in these films, Tom Flynn’s script includes handfuls of scenes that set Gifted apart from the rest. The performances are also better than expected, Evans, also taking a break from the Marvel Universe, finds himself included in one of the best films in his career. Jenny Slate is at her more likeable, while Lindsay Duncan offers the plot a realistic antagonist.
In a series of unfortunate events, Frank Adler (Evans) has become the sole guardian of his 10-year-old niece Mary (Grace). He has raised her on the outskirts of Tampa, far away from his life back in Boston. Frank ignores the fact that Mary is gifted, insisting she attend the local public school for a normal childhood. Her teacher (Slate) realizes the young girl’s potential on day one, the principal gets involved, but Frank refuses to send Mary to some special school where she will be ostracized. Frank’s estranged mother Evelyn (Duncan) is summoned to Florida, arguing on the side of higher learning, that Mary deserves more than public education can offer. The bond Frank and Mary have created over the years is threatened in court while the truth of how she ended up in his care plays out.
There is an emotional hospital scene... that's one of those well placed, well executed scenes that lift-up the entire narrative.
While Gifted opens similarly to the Hidden Figures prologue, the “child’s best interest” conversation sounds familiar to Black or White (another child betterment film starring Spencer) and the court room drama mirrors I Am Sam. There is an emotional hospital scene that keeps the viewer (and Spencer’s character) in the dark until the purpose is explained. It’s one of those well placed, well executed scenes that lift-up the entire narrative. There are narrative surprises throughout, involving one-eyed cat Fred (cat lovers finally rejoice), unexpected character reactions and story developments that keep the audience engaged.
Slate (Obvious Child) who is very Northern, pulls off a believable and quite charming small town Florida elementary teacher. She becomes one of the film’s most welcome surprises, despite the predicted romance between her character and Evans. Lindsay Duncan (Birdman) is the films fully invested villain, with a ferocious court room scene that could silence any auditorium. However, it’s McKenna Grace (Mr. Church), without upper front teeth, that melts hearts, delivering the pitch perfect child performance. Marc Webb understands emotional impact, at least he did back when 500 Days of Summer demonstrated his creativity. There is wit and humor here that distracts from some dramatic clichés. The drama is never heavy or overbearing, it’s open for all audiences and uses most of the actors to their strengths.
Uses a handful or unique and emotional scenes to raise the film above other child custody dramas.