Gifted stars give film an edge

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Gifted Di­rec­tor: Marc Webb Star: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lind­say Dun­can In Gifted, an un­der­stated fam­ily drama from 500 Days of Sum­mer and Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man di­rec­tor Marc Webb, Chris Evans re­minds us that he has a few more strings to his bow than bom­bas­tic Mar­vel ac­tion hero Cap­tain Amer­ica.

He stars as Frank, guardian to his or­phaned, seven-year old niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), who is a maths prodigy. He wants her to have as nor­mal a child­hood as pos­si­ble, while his es­tranged mother, Mary’s ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Eve­lyn (Lind­say Dun­can), wants to cap­i­talise on the young­ster’s nu­mer­i­cal gift. Mary’s mother was also a maths ge­nius, and Frank places some of the blame for his sis­ter’s sui­cide on the pres- sure their mother put on her to ex­ploit her tal­ents.

There’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly ground­break­ing here. A tale of an or­phan fight­ing against the odds to achieve suc­cess and find a place in life is a sta­ple of Hol­ly­wood cinema, from Lit­tle Or­phan An­nie through to the cur­rent crop of Mar­vel and DC he­roes. The ques­tion of how best to care for a prodi­gious tal­ent, mean­while, has been ad­dressed in movies rang­ing from Good Will Hunt­ing to Rain Man.

A low score for orig­i­nal­ity, then, but the film avoids stray­ing too far into de­riv­a­tive ter­ri­tory, largely thanks to the con­vinc­ing per­for­mances, par­tic­u­larly from Evans as a slacker un­cle some­what over­whelmed by his charge’s tal­ent, and young Grace, who makes for a like­able young ge­nius and keeps her per­for­mance just the right side of pre­co­cious. The bond be­tween the un­likely part­ners in crime is also con­vinc­ing as they form a united front against Dun­can’s slightly two-di­men­sional, Cru- ella DeVille-with-a-black­board grand­mother. Oc­tavia Spencer makes a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance, though if you want to see her in a math­e­mat­ics-based drama you’d be bet­ter off watch­ing Hid­den Fig­ures, as her ap­pear­ance here barely reg­is­ters.

Jenny Slater de­liv­ers a solid- enough per­for­mance as Mary’s teacher who recog­nises her tal­ents but is not best­placed to act in her best in­ter­ests, lack­ing as she does deeper knowl­edge of the fam­ily his­tory.

That said, the film re­ally re­volves around the en­gag­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween un­cle and niece, and the cus­tody bat­tle that en­sues when Eve­lyn gets her claws into the young­ster. The re­cur­ring ques­tion of what is re­ally best for a re­mark­able child like Mary, and who is in a po­si­tion to even be­gin to an­swer that ques­tion, is one that will stick with you af­ter the cred­its roll.

Chris New­bould

McKenna Grace as Mary Adler and Chris Evans as her un­cle Frank Adler in Gifted.

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