Release date: 16th June 2017/Watch the trailer here
Gifted, from director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer; The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2), is a film that proves that a story doesn’t always have to be the most groundbreaking or original, so long as it’s a story that’s told well. This particular story is about a precocious seven-year-old child prodigy, Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), who lives in Florida with her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans), and a one-eyed ginger cat called Fred. Mary has lived with Frank since she was a baby, following the suicide of her genius mathematician mother, and after several years of home-schooling, Frank believes it’s time that she goes to an ordinary school, determined to give his niece a normal life. For the first time, Mary is interacting with people other than Frank, Fred and their landlady, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), but she has little interest in children her own age and it quickly comes to the attention of her first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), that Mary is an extraordinarily gifted child. Still, Frank refuses to send Mary to a special school for children as educationally advanced as she is, and his stubbornness soon brings his mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), back into his life, whose desire to take her granddaughter back to Boston draws her and Frank into a vicious custody battle with Mary at the centre.
Of course, there’s little about a story such as this one that hasn’t already been told before, but Webb has proven in the past to have a keen eye for his characters and he’s proven this again with Gifted. The casting here is impeccable; with strong turns from the supporting cast and a heartfelt performance from Evans that acts as firm evidence that he will continue to have an impressive and varied career long after he hangs up Captain America’s shield. But the real standout here is McKenna Grace, whose performance as Mary is at the heart of both the film’s most humorous moments and the most emotional ones. She’s an absolute delight to watch, and her chemistry with Evans is nothing short of charming. It’s hard to imagine Gifted working anywhere near as effectively without Evans and Grace to hold it up.
It’s also because of these two that the emotional manipulations of the film feel a little bit more honest. Gifted knows exactly when it wants to make you cry, but it’s almost impossible to deny it when Frank and Mary are crying, too. The formulas the film uses to tug on the heartstrings are all too transparent (especially since they’ve already been used plenty of times before), but Gifted is endearing, warm, witty and genuinely moving enough for you to not mind too much. In less competent hands it might feel insincere, but Gifted is entirely the opposite, raising a few moral questions along the way (who’s right here – Frank and his determination for Mary to have a normal childhood, or Evelyn and her desire to see Mary and her incredible brain flourish under suitable education for her potential?). The answer might not be a clear one, but there’s one thing that is obvious: Gifted is a lovely, authentic film, with two equally lovely and authentic performances at the centre of it.