Gifted – Movie Review
Rating: B- (Okay)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Sentimental films deserve more credit for the difficulty that comes from not making them too schmaltzy to the point of sappiness. Gifted, on occasion, manages to overcome that boundary and then leaps back into syrup at other points. Marc Webb, returning to a smaller film after two big budget Spider-Man blockbusters, manages to guide the film okay enough, but the screenplay still falls into the obvious traps. Having a precocious child at its centre affects the picture, too, especially with the adults around her seemingly making the decisions for her. This is the stereotypical crowd-pleaser and it will find just as many supporters as it will those rolling their eyes at it.
Having an intelligent child lead is also tricky as youths talking too much like an adult can quickly grate on the nerves. Mckenna Grace plays the role of math genius Mary in the way the script writes her, but none of the dialogue is believable. Occasionally, glimpses of a nine year old come out, but the screenplay is definitely written by an adult male. Screenwriter Tom Flynn seems to have trouble writing her as both intelligent beyond her years and as a child. Chris Evans most succeeds in grounding the movie. Frank’s love for his niece is evident in every scene and his fight to make sure she gets a normal education is believable. Evans is smart not to portray the role with a twinkle in his eye.
Lindsay Duncan, portraying Frank’s mother, plays one of the more stereotypical characters in the film. The screenplay constantly points out the differences between her and her son with obvious lines meant to show how the two have drifted apart. Duncan does get a big acting moment in one of many courtroom scenes and proves to be the only bit where the character is not written so one dimensionally. Jenny Slate’s helpful teacher begins promisingly enough and is then suddenly written as Frank’s central love interest, a disappointing and unnecessary bit of character devolution. Octavia Spencer’s neighbour is merely superfluous and is yet somebody else who gives Frank obvious life advice.
Rob Simonsen’s piano score pounds on the soundtrack at multiple points, almost begging the audience to cry at the obvious sentimentality. More successful are the little bits of humour that Flynn utilises and which make Marc Webb the ideal choice for director. The stand-out character in Gifted is not one of the people, but rather a one eyed cat who finds himself in the middle of this conflict involving Mary’s custody. Evans also takes advantage of his charm to make some lines elicit the proper laughter. At this point in his career, he has already morphed into a real-life Captain America.
For all of Gifted’s problems and overt sentimentality, it is a competent and inoffensive little film. The actors are certainly giving the material the proper respect and its heart is in the right place. It does not necessarily seek to make a major statement of the educational system and it’s easy to understand where certain characters are coming from. Even if the final result appears like a cross between Matilda and Good Will Hunting, it makes sense why this script would find its way to these talented actors and director. Plus, it’s difficult to hate a film in which a main character decides to randomly watch Ice Age.