Well Packaged and Well Recieved
As a director, Marc Webb shines with down to Earth simple stories, about connectable people in relatable or diverse situations. In his 2009 classic ‘(500) Days of Summer’ he showed this with the challenges and set backs of a seemingly cheesy but ultimately adult and complex relationship. He showed glimpses of this in the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ series, but it’s clear that studio interference prevented him from truly shining, instead only showing fragments of his character work and strong dialogue in the cluttered mess of a series that was. Thankfully with Gifted, Webb has gone back to making smaller films that put his talents on full display. A small ensemble of likable and deep characters facing a real and complicated dilemma in a heart-warming gift of a film.
Gifted revolves around Frank (Chris Evans) as the guardian for his niece Mary (McKenna Grace). When she starts school it’s immediately apparent that she’s a mathematical genius and she should attend an advanced school for gifted children. However, he denies the opportunity for this as he wants her to have a normal life, but is soon thrust into a custody battle with his mother (Lindsey Duncan) who wants to take full advantage of the prodigy and have her reach the levels of greatness she’s capable of, but at the expense of the normal life Frank and her mother wanted for her.
It’s an interesting argument as both sides have their points, and while you side with Evans, as Mary does too, you see the advantages of the mother’s arguments. It echoes similar issues as last year’s superb Captain Fantastic. Which also involved a custody battle from two very different ideologies bringing the child/children into two very different styles of life. While the films aren’t similar in execution, they are in tone, though Gifted does get more emotional.
Gifted is a very reserved film in terms of its emotion and setting. The small Florida town by the docks where Frank and Mary live isn’t the most lavish town, it’s actually very rugged with dim skies and a tone that would turn off those used to a higher lifestyle, like the mother, yet it feels very quaint and calming. A nice place to settle down and raise a child. It feels like a home that’s not extravagant but at the same time is exactly what you’d want and feels like a comfortable home. It contrasts the main characters in the custody battle very well and is a pretty subtle detail. Speaking of reserved Chris Evans aces his performance with a very reserved and grounded portrayal of his chill character. Evans continues to prove he’s one of the most underappreciated actors working today. He’s more than just Captain America and not often does he receive credit for more than that. There were times where I expected him to shout or get angry but he never did, he always stayed collected and that kept him compelling. McKenna Grace as well is phenomenal, not just for a child actor. She’s not just a prodigy in the film, she’s an acting one on the screen, having a young Chloë Grace Moretz feel to her with the quick-witted attitude and good comedic delivery. For a ten-year-old, she shows an unbelievable amount of promise.
Gifted is held together with its strong characters and their relations, its engaging dialogue, heart-warming emotional moments and excellent performances and directing. For negatives, one or two things brought up after the custody trial will make you question why they weren’t brought up at the trial but it is somewhat covered. And the film never really goes over what Mary makes of Frank dating her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), there’s a quick gag from it but it’s never explored what she makes of it, despite Frank and Bonnie saying that it would be weird for her. Bonnie is also a bit unlikeable at the beginning with her trying to put Mary in her place by making her feel dumb, even if it backfires.
Overall, Gifted is a thoroughly compelling, slowly paced, slice-of-life drama that shows the true talent of the cast and crew. It’s an effective and emotionally engaging film that you shouldn’t let pass. One of the Summer’s diamonds in the rough.