Warm yarn, gift wrapped

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

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.

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