Running Time: 101 Minutes
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate
Frank Adler is a single man raising a child prodigy – his spirited young niece Mary in a coastal town in Florida. Frank’s plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the seven-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary.
“He’s a good person. He wanted me before I was smart.”
There’s a telling scene in Marc Webb’s latest directorial effort where Chris Evans throws what looks to be a spanner into the distance and shouting words to the effect of “I’m no hero”. A knowing wink to his costumed alter-ego or something a little more psychologically significant?
I suspect that deep down in Chris Evans’ soul there’s a desire to break free of the role that’s granted him the freedom to do an indie film like Gifted. Chris Evans is a good actor when he gets the chance and that’s not to say he’s not good as Captain America but the Marvel films are somewhat formulaic. And by “somewhat formulaic”, I mean soulless capitalistic product designed purely for the making of money (to be fair to Marvel, it’s slickly made soulless product compared to Universal’s embarrassing and confused attempt to cash in on superheroes with the so called “Dark Universe)
Sadly Evans will never truly get to show his dramatic chops as Captain America the way Hugh Jackman was finally able to do as Wolverine in Logan. But artistic freedom is essentially the difference between Disney/Marvel and Fox/Marvel. Artistic freedom is available to Chris Evans in the form of choice however and he has chosen a solid and dependable script to flex those acting muscles with Gifted.
It’s also probably a misnomer to call this an “indie” film. It’s not a film that radically plays with narrative structure or is in anyway stylistically challenging, it’s the kind of film for adults big studios would’ve made 20 years ago but not now because…comic book movies!
Chris Evans plays Frank, a former philosophy teacher now boat mechanic who takes care of his child prodigy niece Mary (ably played by McKenna Grace) as her mother committed suicide when Mary was just 6 months old. Things get complicated for Frank when the grade school he wants her to keep attending inform him that Mary would be an ideal candidate for a private school for gifted children. Frank doesn’t want this because he fears that by putting Mary in such an institution, she won’t have the chance for a normal life and fall prey to the same demons that her equally gifted mother did.
What follows is a pretty solid drama with a dash of courtroom proceedings when Frank’s estranged mother (A very stiff upper lip Lindsay Duncan) finds out about Mary’s talents and insists that Mary should be tutored at the highest level in mathematics in Massachusetts. At this point, if you hear maths and Massachusetts, your mind will likely wander to Good Will Hunting territory and it’s a fair comparison in many ways but there’s probably more Jerry Maguire era Cameron Crowe in this than Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting.
And that might not work for some as there are scenes aplenty of a sweetly nature in this that some might find overly syrupy. For me, Webb does a fine job of not going too far in the mawkish direction and keeping the balance just right. But be warned there is a scene in a hospital that is right out of the “Cameron Crowe tug at your heart-strings” playbook that will either make you cry or make you barf.
Personally, I thought it was pretty well done as, to give some context, what are you to do when someone you love doubts themselves enough to feel unlovable? How can you show them in a grand yet simple gesture of how much they mean to you. In a sense the hospital scene encapsulates the movie nicely; it’s the small things that have the greatest emotional impact and the film never really loses sight of the emotional core of Frank and Mary’s relationship.
And Evans is pretty good when he gets the chance to act as he shows a quiet, gruff sort of vulnerability that recalls early Mickey Rourke and it’s good to see an actor willing to do smaller scale projects that leave much more of an impact than what you typically see at the multiplexes nowadays. It’s not Evans’ first rodeo either as he has shown much promise in films like Sunshine and Snowpiercer before this and I’d hope to see him take this further in the future.
This movie is not nearly as iconic or brilliant as Good Will Hunting or Jerry Maguire but it’s a solid entry in the feel- good adult movie genre. The soundtrack isn’t nearly as good as either of the aforementioned classics but it does a solid job of elevating the more tender moments of the film. Plus Florida looks really pleasant in this and it’s America’s wang!
A solid movie with solid performances – mention too should be made for strong supporting turns from Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate – and a return to form for Marc Webb after two mediocre Spiderman entries. Gifted won’t rock your world necessarily but it’s an adult movie for adult audiences that should leave you with a pleasing feeling and perhaps the odd tear in your eye.