UK Release Date: 16th June 2017
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Tom Flynn
Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Plummer
Synopsis: A supremely talented youngster finds herself at the centre of a custody battle between her uncle, who wants her to bond with others, and the grandmother who wants her shipped off to a school for gifted kids.
Films about preciously talented kids are ten a penny – particularly this month as The Book of Henry is being brutally torn apart by movie critics. Step forward Chris Evans, moving away from the shield and biceps of Captain America to take on a more low-key, intimate role as the uncle and guardian of a burgeoning mathematical genius in Gifted. It’s also a step back towards more modest material for director Marc Webb, who moved on from (500) Days of Summer to make the Amazing Spider-Man movies for Sony, and has now returned to his indie roots. What the film lacks in weight, it more than makes up for in charm.
Mary (Mckenna Grace) is already a mathematical genius at seven years old and has now been convinced by her uncle Frank (Evans) that she needs to be sent to school to interact with other kids. Her teacher (Jenny Slate) immediately realises that she’s streets ahead of her classmates and it is suggested that she be given a scholarship to a gifted school. Frank objects to this, but finds his hand forced when Mary’s grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) arrives and suggests that Frank is an unfit guardian who is refusing to allow the young girl to achieve her potential.
Gifted is a sweetly sentimental movie carried along on a wave of wry, acerbic comedy. The repartee between Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans is sharp and spiky in a way that few parent-guardian relationships on screen are able to achieve. It’s in these scenes that Webb comes alive in the way he did back in his early movies, harnessing and amplifying the chemistry between two performers who have a relationship that can carry a film. Much of the film’s emotion comes from the way this relationship shifts as the story progresses and the way the characters shield their feelings from each other.
Webb crafts his story very nicely, here, delivering the revelations of Tom Flynn’s script with a freewheeling sense of fun and a focus on character above plot. Courtroom scenes that could have been needlessly dramatic and emotional climaxes that could have borne the stench of mouldy cheese are instead enhanced by Webb’s lightness of touch and the impressive performances. Supporting roles are filled gamely by talented performers, including Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate – the latter of whom is a real highlight in a role reminiscent of the kindly Miss Honey in Matilda, stealing every scene in which she appears.
There’s something refreshing about Gifted in that it’s a straightforward and gentle movie, without the arch cynicism of (500) Days of Summer. Movies like this are rarer than they should be, with the warmth and charm of the film lending even more weight to the moments when that peaceful equilibrium is shattered. Lindsay Duncan’s arrival as an ice queen grandmother motivated only by a desire for success shakes up the film wonderfully and creates a genuinely thorny debate surrounding whether the central character should pursue school with her peers or special education preparing her for high-level study. Gifted paints this as a debate with validity on both sides, adding a welcome smidge of complexity to the otherwise simple storytelling.
It’s great to see Evans in a more low-key role and he seems to be relaxed on screen as a laidback person thrown into a chaotic battle for which he is thoroughly unprepared. The narrative rug-pulls come at just the right time and Webb gives real heft to the emotional moments. This is a shamelessly sentimental film and, as a shamelessly sentimental person, this was definitely the movie for me.
Pop or Poop?
Marc Webb is back where he belongs with Gifted – at the helm of a low-key drama film. Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace make for an entertaining double act at the heart of the film, which balances light-footed comedy with a surprisingly potent emotional core that hits hard when necessary.
Jenny Slate is the pick of a strong supporting cast, with Lindsay Duncan also making a memorable impact on this tale – which deals with the balancing act between socialising and ambition.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.