Director; Marc Webb
Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer
Written by: Tom Flynn
Running Time: 101 mins
Release date: 16th June 2017
One of the joys of seeing as many films as I do is that once in a while, a film comes out that really surprises you. I admit I went into Gifted with low expectations based on the poster and the trailer. My immediate reaction was that of a man entering a sloppy, sentimental tear-jerker where the wailing violins would be pushed up to maximum volume and the performances would be earnest yet forced. How wrong could I have been? This is a smart, touching and funny tale with a cast underplaying the whole thing so that the viewer can believe in everything.
Mary is a seven-year-old living with single man Frank. The pair has a relaxed relationship with Mary seeming older than her years. In fact, she is a child prodigy, a maths genius who finds the simplicity of first-year school ludicrous until her teacher, Bonnie, realises she is special. Frank, however, wants the child to attend a normal school so she can lead a normal life. Something that the child’s grandmother, Evelyn, is against and a battle begin to decide the future of Mary.
I am trying to keep as much as I can to my chest because one of the joys of this film is knowing as little as possible to get the full effect of the emotions. Director Marc Webb and writer Tom Flynn have produced a wonderful piece of work that tries its best to steer clear of the usual trappings that these film often have. So the direction is as low-key as possible, with the conversations between all the characters feeling natural. The script is sharp and pithy and brimming with lines that are smart and often witty, while never hitting notes of mawkishness.
As the story develops and we start to understand the motives of Frank and why it is imperative that Mary stays as normal and grounded as possible. We understand why Evelyn wants to take Mary away and all the while these characters are becoming more and more rounded. Even when we head down the courtroom sequences, where cliches could have been thrown at the audiences way, they are skillfully avoided. Once scene, in which Evelyn is being questioned, could have become THAT court scene moment, where the orchestration takes precedence and the dialogue could be quoted ad infinitum. Instead, it is subtle and engrossing and far more powerful.
The film is helped massively by the performances. Chris Evans, stepping away from his Captain America persona, oozes charm and screen charisma as Frank, a man who obviously loves Mary and as the story unfolds, we can see that his love is also elsewhere. It’s the best thing that Evans has done outside his superhero universe. Octavia Spencer is equally good as Frank’s neighbour and friend, while Jenny Slate, more known for her vocal work on Zootropolis and The Lego Batman Movie, is a delight as Mary’s teacher.
The film’s winning cards are in the hands of young Mckenna Grace as Mary, who manages to be likeable without being precocious, giving a mature performance way beyond her years. Lindsay Duncan steals the acting honours as Evelyn, Mary grandmother who has the difficult role of being the woman who only wants the best for her granddaughter and yet has perfectly selfish motives as well. It’s a finely tuned performance that commands the screen.
Those who look at Gifted as just another chick flick will be sorely mistaken. This is a Hollywood movie that hits the right notes. One that will have you laughing (the script is very funny), make you feel warm even if the air conditioning in the cinema is turned up full blast and will have you sobbing more than once. This year’s surprise sleeper? Possibly but certainly one of the biggest surprises of the year. A delight.