Warm yarn, gift wrapped
GIFTED ★★★ Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer 12A cert, gen release, 101 min
After serving his time on the two Amazing Spider-Man films, Marc Webb, director of (500) Days of Summer, steps towards a less flashy corner of the mainstream with a solid, unthreatening child-custody drama. Call it Kramer vs
Kramer’s Mom. Call it Little Girl Tate. Call it what you like. Gifted gives glorified TV movies a better name.
The reliably charming Chris Evans – whose annoying good looks somehow fail to inhibit his rugged humanity – stars as Frank, an underachieving boat-repair guy living not far above the breadline in Florida. He is close enough to Mary (the excellent Mckenna Grace), his orphaned niece, to allow her one-eyed cat, Fred, in to the house despite his distaste for the species.
He also stands up for her in school. Mary is a maths prodigy and, bored by her facile curriculum, she has a habit of showing off to teachers. They want her to attend a special school. Frank is insistent that his late sister’s desire – she was also a maths genius – that Mary live a normal life be honoured.
The tensions reach a head when Frank’s conniving English mother (a lip-smacking Lindsay Duncan) turns up with posh lawyers and attempts to seize the child.
Some of this makes little sense. The film can’t seem to decide how much it loathes Duncan’s character. At least one plot turn paints her as a genuine monster. Elsewhere she seems kind but misguided.
Still, Duncan cannot be faulted for her commitment to malign relish. “I suppose they’ll take her to Olive Garden and teach her to say ‘irregardless’,” she spits when considering potential foster parents. Evans swells with blue-collar integrity. Grace is funny on purpose.
It adds up to a classy package that gets by on warmth and sincere performances. QED.