From the opening minutes of Gifted, most of us will be fairly sure how it will end. But for a film that deals in sentiment and predictability, it actually manages to hit almost all the right notes.
Chris Evans is Frank, who plays a foster-parent sort of role to his young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), who shares the same genius-mathematician traits as her late mother. To Mary’s extreme reluctance, Frank has insisted that she shifts from being home-schooled to attending school, in order to make some friends and begin living life as a ‘normal’ kid. It soon becomes clear, however, particularly to Mary’s bubbly teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), that maybe she’d be better off attending a school where her intelligence is challenged. But Frank doesn’t think so – he thinks Mary needs to not exist in a bubble. Enter Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who wants to swoop Mary away to a private school, kicking off a custody battle in an effort to do so.
The entire cast of Gifted strongly elevate the film with their emotional performances. You never really get the sense that anyone is half-heartedly performing. Evans and Grace have an effortless rapport that makes their potential parting all the more tragic, and Octavia Spencer gives her all as Mary and Frank’s lovable neighbour Roberta. As many of us may know, Chris Evans and Jenny Slate struck up a relationship not long after Gifted wrapped, and as a result, their chemistry cuts through the big screen in an ultra-relaxed yet ever-so-slightly sizzling manner.
What also works in Gifted’s favour is its ability to meld a number of differing themes together in a way that doesn’t over-saturate its narrative. Grief, familial estrangement, and the tricky line between allowing a child’s special talents to bloom, while ensuring that their childhood isn’t compromised are all themes that are weaved together satisfyingly. There is a specific hospital scene that fails at hitting its intended mark, but for the most part, Gifted is a pleasant hour and a half-long ride.
Gifted (2016) is director Marc Webb’s first original film since 500 Days of Summer (2009).