Young Math Genius Navigates Life in Family Drama

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr

“Gifted” is a sweet and moving drama that centers around real, three-dimensional characters with daily struggles that many viewers can relate to. It truly is a rarity to see a film this personal and this intimate get made in an industry dominated by big-budget, smash-n-crash blockbusters, yet “Gifted” manages to be as impactful and memorable as any film this year.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is the uncle and sole guardian of Mary (McKenna Grace), a math savant who’s about to attend first grade in Florida. When Mary stuns the classroom and teacher (Jenny Slate) with her abilities, Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) comes down to Florida, all the way from Boston, to give Mary the life that Evelyn deems appropriate for such a prodigy. Frank believes that Mary should live a normal life and skip the whole advanced placement gig and a custody battle ensues.

The cast is tremendous. Chris Evans hasn’t been this good since smaller projects like “Puncture” and “Sunshine,” bringing a wonderful level of depth and complexity to Frank. McKenna Grace steals the show as Mary, a role that could’ve been reduced to pure sap and melodrama, but is played with the dexterity of a veteran actress; a future star for sure. Octavia Spencer plays the kind and gentle neighbor who has a soft spot for Mary, a character with the warmth and presence that we can expect from Spencer. Jenny Slate and Lindsay Duncan both turn in fine performances, at times being dramatic foils to Frank. 

Director Marc Webb, who previously helmed the "Amazing Spider-Man" franchise, feels right at home with a project of this scale (see “500 Days of Summer”). Webb and screenwriter Tom Flynn tell a universal tale of life and self-discovery, nature vs nurture, with characters that we can all relate to and recognize in ourselves and others. Frank and Mary make for some of the movie’s most vibrant scenes and must make painful decisions that may or may not be what’s best for each other. “Gifted” wisely refuses to give any easy answers, as audiences will leave the theater discussing what could/should have happened. 

The general framework of “Gifted” is something you’ll recognize; think “Good Will Hunting” meets “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” But Gifted stands triumphantly on its own two feet to be emotional, funny and thought-provoking cinema.