Gifted stars give film an edge
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.
McKenna Grace as Mary Adler and Chris Evans as her uncle Frank Adler in Gifted.