Gifted has been out for a while (since 2017 to be exact), but with names like Chris Evans, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate, it is surprising how little this film is discussed. Director Mark Webb and writer Tom Flynn take well-known themes and tropes – particularly the gifted child narrative – and expand upon them to create an engaging down-to-earth character study.
When any Marvel actor takes on any film outside the franchise, there is an influx of intrigue; however, the multitude of talented performances are enough of a reason to watch the film. The audience follows Mary (Mckenna Grace), who is being raised by her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) due to her mother Diane’s tragic passing when she was a baby. When she joins school, it becomes very clear to her teacher that she has inherited her mother’s gift for mathematics, something Frank is reluctant to expand due to the mental health problems and pressures related to the academic world that led to her mother’s death. What ensues is a journey of finding a balance for Mary, and a messy custody battle between him and his own mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).
A particular scene in which Mary is quizzed by her teacher (Jenny Slate) admittedly seems completely taken from Matilda (1996), however this is where the similarities end; the film isn’t scared to show its characters’ faults and the complexity of their perspectives, as Mary is pulled in all directions by people who believe they are doing what is best for her. A setting from a quaint, secluded home where Frank discourages too much maths to being dragged to a lecture theatre by Evelyn so that Mary can display her knowledge suitably displays this conflict, often out of her hands but dealt with in a way that cleverly intertwines the troubles her mother faced, and Frank’s fears of the past repeating itself.
Above all, what I love about this film is the questions it poses. While the the level of intelligence Mary displays is rare, the ‘gifted child’ problem is extremely common, and all too often children grow up believing their one value in life is what they can academically contribute. How does someone contribute to an academic field and experience a childhood at the same time? How far can the excuse of prodigal talent be used when said prodigy never experiences anything else? Yes, this film is about a gifted child, but really the maths is a backdrop to her relationships and how the death of her mother is still an emotionally open wound for her family. Also, with a tear-jerking performance from Mckenna Grace (who has since become known as the go-to child actor of Hollywood and has even appeared on the Marvel scene herself), every aspect of this film portrays an authentic story, with a guardian and child you can’t help but root for.