The 'Gifted' Movie Is Heartfelt and Easy to Love
Blonde-haired, gap-toothed, adorable 7-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a math whiz. The pint-sized Terrence Tao is actually more than that – she’s a bona fide prodigy with a genius IQ. It’s her gift, but also her curse.
We meet Mary on the morning of her first day of public school, and she’s a bit nervous about going. It’s a relatable moment, whether you’re a kid or a parent – fear of the unknown, leaving your comfort zone. An orphan whose mom died when she was an infant, Mary has been raised in a small-town and home-schooled by her well-meaning but free-spirited bachelor uncle, Frank (Chris Evans) – so, she hasn’t met many other children before. “You’re gonna meet kids today you can borrow money from for the rest of your life,” he tells her. She reluctantly gets on the bus…and quickly gets into a fight with a bully.
From there, the multi-layered dramedy unfolds. Grace and Evans are the glue, but the supporting cast is also excellent: especially Octavia Spencer as Frank and Mary’s neighbor and surrogate mother figure, Roberta. Lindsay Duncan stands out as Evelyn, Mary’s wealthy grandmother who turns up all of a sudden wanting custody of the child so she can develop her into a mathematics world-superstar. When Frank tells Evelyn that he just wants Mary to have a normal life, she responds icily, “She’s not normal and treating her as such is negligence on a grand scale.” There’s also an adorable animal actor who plays Mary’s one-eyed cat, Fred. (Yes, you can bet there’s a tearjerker scene involving Fred toward the end of the movie…)
At times, Gifted feels like it has too much going on – as backstories come into focus, so does a shoehorned romantic relationship between Frank and Mary’s first-grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate). Then there’s a set of foster parents introduced, as well as a deceptive mathematics professor, and a strange, drawn-out scene in which Frank takes Mary to a maternity ward to show her how happy people are when babies come into the world. “I had that same reaction when you were born,” he tells his niece, as she observes a glad dad cheering in the waiting room.
Despite some schmaltz, director Marc Webb does an admirable job of adding depth and texture to young Mary’s life, never dismissing the character as just a little kid – when she’s being used as a pawn in the bitter custody battle, all sides of dilemma are shown, even the girl’s. Mary responds with intelligence and emotion – and a tantrum – that feels not so much like that of a Hollywood screenwriter, but a smart and authentic child.
Gifted is genuinely sweet and it holds your interest in its heartfelt advocacy for unconventional family life: love conquers all! It’s rated PG-13 for “thematic elements” but it should also appeal to younger children, especially those who also have academic gifts of their own. Parents will like the fact it’s a thought-provoking, feel-good movie that’s got something in it for you, too.
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