Gifted – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Filled with gentle humor, Gifted tells the story of an exceptional little girl at the center of a power struggle between her uncle and her grandmother.

Chris Evans and McKenna Grace star in Gifted. Photo copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) never asked to be the caretaker of his young niece. He’s a young single man with boats to build and beautiful young women to romance. Even so, after his older sister killed herself several years ago and entrusted her little girl, Mary (McKenna Grace) to him, Frank has grown to love her deeply. After teaching Mary everything he can to prepare her for first grade, Mary attends classes kicking and screaming. Once there, she immediately alienates others by her condescending tone and amazing math skills.

Recognizing Her Giftedness

Her new first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), recognizes her giftedness and talks to the principal about moving Mary to a gifted school that can better address her needs. The only problem is that Frank promised his sister to provide the little girl with a normal life – not a life of seclusion in a think tank like Frank’s mother imposed on his sister, who was also a math genius.

Just when Frank figures he’s got things under control at the school, his very British, very uncompromising mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), enters the picture, and she’s so intent on taking Mary home with her that she takes her son to court to fight for custody. Though Frank has Bonnie on his side (as well as in his bed), it’s a losing battle against such a formidable opponent. Unless, of course, Frank can come up with a secret weapon to get Mary back.

Pluses and Minuses

Just as there are obvious pros and cons of having Mary stay with Frank, the film itself has readily apparent strengths and weaknesses. On the minus side, some of the scenes are overly familiar. How many times have we seen would-be lovers declare it will never happen between them, only to have the next scene show them in bed together? A few scenes with a handheld camera may have been used to heighten drama or indicate intimacy, but all they accomplish is causing motion sickness in the viewer. And finally, the worst flaw of all. It’s obvious from the beginning that Frank is too focused on dumbing Mary down to give her a normal life, and that Evelyn is too obsessed with substituting her granddaughter’s math skills for those of the similarly gifted daughter she lost. And what’s even more obvious? That a compromise is the only healthy choice for everyone. Yet it takes the entire film for Frank and Evelyn to figure this out.

On the plus side, the casting is excellent, and the main characters feel real enough to elicit a range of emotions in the viewer. In particular, little McKenna Grace as Mary and Evans as her uncle have some beautiful scenes between them. Duncan is effective as the strong-willed grandmother, and Octavia Spencer lovingly plays the role of a concerned neighbor who wants what she thinks is best for the child. We expect Mary’s precociousness to supply some laughs, but there’s also unexpected humor weaving itself throughout the film, which helps lighten what could be a heavy drama with a damaged child at its core. Despite a few flaws, the film’s good intentions and stellar performances make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

 Gifted

  • A single man fights to keep his seven-year-old niece – a math prodigy – under his care despite his unconventional lifestyle.
  • Stars: McKenna Grace, Chris Evans, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate
  • Director: Marc Webb
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive material)

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