I almost exclusively these days review event films, reboots, remakes, spin-offs, and blockbusters, so it is so refreshing to be able to stumble across a film that’s none of those; that’s smart and funny, heartwarming and manly tear-inducing, and has a wonderful cast acting off of a superb script. Gifted is, on the surface, a simple story, but the beauty of it is in the writing and in the deep characters built by this fantastic ensemble. And the whole thing is directed by Marc Webb, who now only has to churn out about four more gems like this before I forgive him for The Amazing Spider-Mans.
Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a seemingly simple guy. He lives in a small Florida town, fixes boats, and raises his niece Mary (McKenna Grace). The film begins with Mary’s first day in first grade, and it doesn’t take long to figure out that neither Frank or Mary are simple or normal. Mary is a mathematical prodigy, as was her late mother, and as is her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) Evelyn. When Mary starts to show signs that she’s not just gifted, but a mathematical Mozart, Evelyn appears for the first time in Mary’s life and soon a custody battle is raging between mother and son. What’s best for Mary isn’t simple, and the battle brings to light the very complicated relationships Evelyn had with her children and they with each other and how Mary ended up in Frank’s care. Custody battle stories aren’t novel, nor are prodigy ones, but this sidesteps all the cliches and packs significant heart and surprise. Also there’s a one-eyed cat, so that alone should sell you.
Chris Evans is so busy with his work in the MCU as Captain America that we’ve probably seen less of him than any of the other key players in other projects since he first picked up the shield. Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War in 2019, Evans will be leaving the MCU (and possibly acting) behind. I hope he doesn’t, because Gifted reminded me what a likable and nuanced actor he can be, and it takes Captain America to hold his own against McKenna Grace in this film.
How good is McKenna Grace? If the year ended today, I’d give her Best Actress for this performance (or she’d battle it out with Gal Gadot at the least). This kid is as much an acting prodigy as her character is a math whiz. Mary’s not easy, and her socialization skills aren’t stellar, but she’s such a layered character for a 6-year-old. She and Evans have a wonderful rapport and a genuine affection clearly exists between them.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Lindsay Duncan. Evelyn could easily have been a one-note villain in this film, but she’s not at all. There are times when she’s very likable, but there are also times when you want to strangle her. She could not be wired more differently than Frank, but there’s still an affection-a family bond-that exists between the two, and as the events of the film progress, she reveals herself to be possibly the most complex Adler of them all. It’s an entire ensemble (I didn’t even get to Octavia Spencer, who is brilliant as always) of great actors with great material birthing gifted characters (see what I did there?) into a story that feels original despite treading familiar ground. Gifted is one of the best surprises of 2017, and a must-rent!