In Florida, boat repairman Frank (Chris Evans) sends his young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) to her first day of school after years of homeschooling but it doesn’t take long for her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) to realise that Mary is a mathematical genius, recommending that Mary be put in a more advanced, specialised school. But Frank believes that a different school will further isolate her from children her own age and is determined for her to live a “normal” life. Soon, Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) arrives, herself determined to take custody of Mary in order to give her the advanced education that she feels she needs to take for the benefit of mankind.
Gifted has a relatively small cast made up of some very recognisable actors, as well as a few new faces, and the performances are a definite highlight as everyone fully commits to their roles, sincerely giving it their all and genuinely never looking as though they are phoning it in at all. Temporarily breaking away from Captain America (though there is a certain speech where he did remind me a great deal of Cap!), Chris Evans delivers a confident, dignified leading performance as the parental figure who truly wants the best life for Mary. Frank is not really the most interesting character in the world but Evans imbues him with strength (obviously!) and compassion; he’s a worthy protagonist and Evans delivers an incredibly solid performance outside of the MCU.
The always reliable Octavia Spencer does well with a fine, though a trifle pointless, supporting role as Frank’s neighbour/friend Roberta, Lindsay Duncan is effectively aloof and commanding, while also appearing affable and caring when required, and Jenny Slate is wonderfully sweet and charming as the Miss Honey-like teacher who discovers Mary’s incredible gift and who eventually forms a relationship with Frank – a massive jump to the opposite end of the “respectability scale” after playing Mona Lisa Saperstein in Parks and Recreation!
And of course there’s Mckenna Grace who plays the part of child prodigy Mary; while initially appearing a tad unlikeable and with an uneven performance, she soon settles into the role, becoming a character who we can effortlessly support, carrying the film quite well. She succeeds in showing a character much wiser beyond her years and also effectively demonstrates a wide range of emotions, getting to deliver some funny sarcastic quips in one scene and then tugging on your heartstrings in other, emotionally charged scenes.
Evans and Grace work very well together (as does the whole cast in general) and certain scenes at the end are particularly devastating due to the sheer sadness and emotion involved – at that one point, I certainly felt the start of a tear starting to form . . .
The story is alright, nothing groundbreaking or wholly unique as it calls to mind such films as Matilda and Hidden Figures, given their inclusion of young mathematical prodigies, and it eventually ends up in a big pivotal court case, as movies like Gifted tend to do. The writing, especially in the courtroom scenes, is perhaps too slight, playing it a bit too safe and harmless; I often started thinking that the film may very well be “too nice” for its own good and it eventually gets to a point where one can completely lose track of what the characters actually want and what the point of it all is. All in all, the performances carry the story along well and in all fairness, it is solid enough, never boring, but Gifted seems to have that inescapable “lifetime movie” aura that prevents it from true greatness. But saying all of that, the film delivers plenty of gentle humour with some clever, humorous lines (mostly nabbed by young Mckenna Grace) and emotional scenes that don’t veer off into being manipulative or sappy. Plus, it does well in being balanced, allowing us see “both sides of the coin” and to question whether Frank is truly acting in Mary’s best interests or not.
Elsewhere, the film has an appealing, soothing color pallette and the music is . . . well it’s what you’d expect from a film like this: plenty of slow piano and violins, nothing revolutionary.
A nice, sweet, charming film brought to life by sincere performances, especially from Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace.
★ ★ ★