THE NUM­BERS ADD UP IN FAM­ILY DRAMA

Harefield Gazette - - Film Reviews -

APRECOCIOUS six-yearold girl with a beau­ti­ful mind is the glit­ter­ing prize of an ac­ri­mo­nious cus­tody bat­tle in Marc Webb’s deeply mov­ing drama.

Penned in broad strokes by screen­writer Tom Flynn, Gifted over­comes a for­mu­laic struc­ture to de­liver hefty emo­tional wal­lops, and pro­vides buff lead­ing man Chris Evans with a meaty dra­matic role to test his act­ing met­tle rather than his bulging bi­ceps.

Webb’s film is laden with de­light­ful sur­prises, in­clud­ing a stel­lar per­for­mance from 10-yearold Mckenna Grace in the piv­otal role of a quick-wit­ted math­e­mat­i­cal prodigy, who is sassy be­yond her years.

She deftly es­chews win­some­ness to cap­ture the frus­tra­tions of her wun­derkind, who is painfully aware that she tow­ers above her peers and some of the teach­ers, who are sup­pos­edly shep­herd­ing her to brighter aca­demic hori­zons.

On-screen rap­port be­tween Evans and Grace has the ease and fa­mil­iar­ity of kin, and when the flood­gates open in the film’s sec­ond half, both ac­tors let the tears flow nat­u­rally and break our hearts in the process.

Ad­mit­tedly, Os­car win­ner Oc­tavia Spencer is poorly served in a per­func­tory sup­port­ing role and a sub­plot in­volv­ing a one-eyed pet cat veers dan­ger­ously close to mawk­ish­ness. Thank­fully, di­rec­tor Webb nim­bly avoids each po­ten­tially fatal pit­fall with­out sac­ri­fic­ing com­pas­sion for his flawed char­ac­ters.

Florida boat re­pair­man Frank Adler (Evans) home schools his cheru­bic niece Mary (Grace), who in­her­ited her pas­sion for al­ge­bra from her late mother.

Frank feeds the child’s in­sa­tiable hunger for knowl­edge but also jeal­ously guards Mary’s play­time.

He wants her to have a nor­mal up­bring­ing, full of laugh­ter.

Against the ad­vice of wor­ry­wart neigh­bour Roberta (Spencer), Frank en­rols Mary in first grade of the lo­cal school, where the lit­tle girl daz­zles her form teacher Bon­nie (Jenny Slate) by per­form­ing complex mul­ti­pli­ca­tions in her head. The school’s prin­ci­pal (El­iz­a­beth Marvel) takes an ac­tive in­ter­est and is dumb­founded when Frank re­fuses a full schol­ar­ship for Mary to a nearby school for gifted chil­dren.

“Never get on the bad side of small-minded peo­ple with a lit­tle author­ity,” warns Roberta.

Soon af­ter, Mary’s ma­ter­nal grand­mother Eve­lyn (Lind­say Dun­can) ma­te­ri­alises in Florida to stake a claim to the child in the court of Judge Ed­ward Ni­chols (John M Jack­son).

While Frank and Eve­lyn trade ver­bal blows through their lawyers, Mary makes clear her unerring de­vo­tion to Frank: “He wanted me be­fore he knew I was smart”.

Gifted is a heart­felt ode to sac­ri­fice that suc­ceeds de­spite its oc­ca­sional reliance on clichés.

The dy­namic dou­ble-act of Evans and Grace are ably sup­ported by Dun­can as a steely ma­tri­arch, who be­lieves she knows best but has much to learn, like her spunky grand­daugh­ter.

A ro­man­tic dal­liance in­volv­ing Frank and Mary’s teacher is sen­si­bly kept on the back­burner as the heart­break of the court case swells and we clam­our in the dark for tis­sues.

Dy­namic dou­ble-act: Mckenna Grace as Mary and Chris Evans as Frank Os­car win­ner Oc­tavia Spencer, pic­tured with her co-stars, is left with a rather per­func­tory role

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