Unexpectedly heartwarming, Gifted provides several moments of pure emotion and drama. It may not be groundbreaking or new, but Gifted is a really enjoyable feel-good experience.
“If Einstein could ride a bike then why can’t she?” The “she” being referred to is seven-year old Mary (McKenna Grace), a child math prodigy. She’s caught between surrogate uncle Frank (Chris Evans), who wants nothing more than for her to lead a normal childhood, and Grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who wants her to devote her life to studying mathematics. Both ends of the rope are being pulled following the suicide of Mary’s mother, a ‘gifted’ individual in her own right who, under the regimental guidance of Evelyn, dedicated her life to solving a single problem. If this sounds at all familiar, you wouldn’t be wrong. Gifted treads inhabited ground and balances on a knife-edge of cheese but regardless, it may just be 2017’s biggest cinematic surprise.
Directed by Marc Webb, coming off the back of two questionable Amazing Spider-Man entries, Gifted is the sophomore piece expected after the endlessly charming and completely lovable 500 Days of Summer. It’s a more matured and tightly handled film than his debut and reflects a director whose lessons have been learnt following his blockbuster outings. That lesson being an unwavering focus on character and narrative; two elements which Gifted balances with the accuracy of a solved equation.
Frank, played brilliantly by Chris Evans, provides the film’s heartbeat; a man desperate to see his niece live the fulfilled life which wasn’t allowed for his sister. Possibly the perfect role for Evans alongside his unavoidable association with Captain America, it gives him the opportunity to tackle a character who lives below the muscled exterior. Grace is a child prodigy in her own right at the film’s centre, though used sparingly to good effect, she plays Mary with a simultaneous maturity and childishness in a way only a skilled child performer could. Performances are of high standard across the board in fact, with Octavia Spencer and Lindsay Duncan each providing deeply believable performances throughout.
It is the performances, alongside a well written script by Tom Flynn, which make the film unavoidably likeable. Despite its slightly unlikely concept of a highly intelligent family somehow passing on a gene for the love of maths, Gifted is handled in a way which deters any questioning in exchange for genuine emotional impact. Such emotion comes from its life-affirming sense of humanity; a scene involving Frank taking Mary to the hospital to witness the elation at the birth of a child is particularly powerful.
Be warned, Gifted is a film which you might not think much of before it begins, but underestimate it and you may just be a blubbering mess by its end. It’s a film about being a kid as much as it is about being a person, a film with good intentions and made with care for the craft and characters. Gifted isn’t groundbreaking or new, nor is it going to leave you thinking about it for weeks afterwards, but what it might do is leave you feeling fuzzy, warm and maybe a little soggy eyed during its run time. Although an overused statement, Gifted might truly be the feel-good film of the year.
Gifted (2017), directed by Marc Webb, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, Certificate 12A.