Director Marc Webb, best known for hit rom-com (500) Days of Summer, brings back the witty charm of his previous films to his latest feature Gifted. Seven-year-old Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) is a math genius living with her uncle Frank Adler (Chris Evans). Frank just wants Mary to have a normal childhood, but tensions rise when Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) finds out about Mary’s genius and threatens to take her away from him.
Comedian Jenny Slate plays Mary’s first-grade math teacher Bonnie, in one of her rare dramatic roles. Many will remember her as the hilariously ditzy Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Recreation, but she pulls it off in this movie as the sincere and caring elementary school teacher, showcasing that she’s a well-rounded actress.
As for Chris Evans, he pulls off the ruggedly handsome boat repairman extremely well. The father-daughter chemistry between Evans and Grace is outstandingly realistic, as the two complement each other perfectly. Powerhouse actress Octavia Spencer plays the motherly next door neighbour Roberta, who acts as the voice of reason for Frank in all his decisions, as well as a mother figure for Mary. As usual, her performance is nothing short of outstanding.
But the true star of the all-star cast is Mckenna Grace, who outshines all of her co-stars. Every moment she’s on screen is a delight. Grace perfectly portrays a girl so over-brimming with intelligence and fire, but who is also still an innocent and inexperienced child trying to navigate the intense tension between her uncle and grandmother.
Grandmother Evelyn is an antagonist to be reckoned with. On the surface, she appears to be a caring grandma who wants the best education for her prodigy granddaughter, but in reality, she just wants to use Mary to solve the groundbreaking equation Mary’s deceased mother left unsolved. But Frank knows Evelyn will try to make Mary into a math machine like her mother, and he’d do anything to pull her away from that.
As a character, Evelyn is a strong opposing force to Frank and Mary. However, the core of the film felt anticlimactic and predictable. The stakes, while built up effectively, seemed to flicker out disappointingly when it came to the climax, and conveniently gave the audience what they wanted at the end.
The camera shook through many scenes as if it was found footage, which was really jarring and distracting against the clean-cut tone and lighting of the film. It would have worked better if the camera was still for a majority of these scenes.
Gifted is the kind of movie that you see because it has a cute and clever little girl that audiences absolutely can’t resist. It’s a sweet, sincere, and witty movie that explores the dichotomy between fully honing your potential at a young age or having a fulfilling childhood, and how to compromise between the two. While it’s predictable and lacks some substance around its climax, it’s still worth a watch, if not for fiery young Mary who, for the love of God, just wants to know what ad nauseam means.
(Feature image: FilmNation Entertainment)