Chris Evans isn’t donning a shield or a uniform for his role in “Gifted.” In fact, he’s outwardly a typical, blue collar boat repairman. It’s what lies beneath that makes him just as strong and powerful as Captain America as he portrays Frank, 6 year-old Mary’s (Mckenna Grace) uncle and father-figure. In a custody battle with Mary’s maternal grandmother, everyone’s motives and abilities are put into question, revealing a troubled past, debatable motivations, and regrets. While the story may be somewhat predictable and familiar, it’s still one that captures your attention and your heart as you laugh and shed a few tears, completely invested in this struggling young man and his precocious little girl.
Frank (Evans) has decided to send his brilliantly mathematically gifted 6 year-old to public school to learn more than he can teach her—social skills. From the moment Mary sits at her desk, utterly bored, she unveils her profound gift at calculating equations (and lack of respect) as her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) checks the results on her calculator. As the adults have other plans for Mary’s education, it comes down to a fight for what’s best for Mary, but those lines of right and wrong are blurred.
“Gifted” is a love story on many different levels. It’s a father-daughter love story as well as a sweet attraction between Frank and Mary’s first grade teacher. We also see the connection and loyalty between siblings and how a bond between a mother and child can sadly be broken. While it is Mary and Frank’s story, these ancillary stories add a beautiful depth to the film. Frank’s genuine and unyielding love and protection of Mary is unparalleled as he melts our heart. He loves this little girl and is weighted with the responsibility of doing what is best for his sister’s child. His sister would have wanted Mary to have friends her own age, not just Roberta (Octavia Spencer) and Fred, the one-eyed cat.
What makes “Gifted” a different take on a familiar topic is the court proceedings and allowing the viewer into the struggle that Frank is facing internally. Every parent asks the question, “Am I making the right decision?” We all the do the best we can with what we are given and Frank is no different. He’s not a super hero. He’s very ordinary, but that’s what makes him so special. In Mary’s mind, he’s not perfect either. We watch the two work out a few typical parent-kid issues, sometimes in very messy ways, but all very honestly. The court process is frustrating as we find ourselves almost shouting to route for our hero, Frank. But again, life can be very messy and unfair and we don’t know how this is going to end.
Creating a genuine bond between Frank and Mary is evident in every scene. It feels real and it sounds real. Roberta is the neighbor every parent would want as her maternal influence creates a wonderful balance in Mary’s life. While Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) is our evil character in this story, she’s not just one-dimensional. She is just as complicated with her guilt and remorse as anyone else in the film; it’s just that her motivation isn’t inspired by love. And Bonnie and Frank’s relationship provides a bit of humor in the film, although much of it feels a bit stilted and contrived after the first humorous interactions.
Evans shines in this dramatic role, proving that he is much more than a flat comic book hero. He can be sensitive, kind, and loving as well as frustrated and scared. He finds the ability to portray all of these emotions without ever going over the top. Mckenna Grace is simply outstanding, particularly at this young age. Her eyes and expressions immediately connect you to her as she effortlessly pulls on your heartstrings. Finding someone of this age to carry this film could not have been easy and without the skill of this talented girl, the deft direction of Marc Webb, and the connection between she and Evans, this film would have flopped. It didn’t.
Relationships and life are sticky, particularly when you involve children and “Gifted” shows us just how tumultuous life can be. Beautifully filmed with music to augment each emotional scene makes this an engaging film filled with love and compassion, reminding us of what’s important and how to be sensitive and compromising.
While this is a story about a child, there is some language in the film not suitable for younger ears. The pace of the film isn’t geared toward younger attention spans either.