Having tried his hand in the superhero genre, Marc Webb returns now to a more character driven piece, in what is an endearingly traditional, Hollywood drama. Cliched, formulaic this production may be, but it’s presented in an uncynical, affectionate manner – letting it off the hook and making for a compelling, accessible feature.
Webb has called upon another mainstay in the comic book universe, Mr. Captain America himself Chris Evans, who plays Frank Adler, who is raising his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) following the untimely death of his sister. Knowing of her capabilities and remarkable intelligence, having seen what happened to his sibling he wants nothing more than to give Mary the normal life her mother never received, despite teacher Bonnie’s (Jenny Slate) desire to send this gifted child to a better school. But Frank is then faced with a whole new challenge as his own mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) wants to raise her grandchild herself and give her the education she believes she deserves, as the two prepare to face off against one another in the courtroom.
The film proposes a rather interesting debate here, of nurturing talent. Though primarily siding with Frank, believing in his ability as a father figure, and adhering to his notion that she should lead a normal life rather seclude herself from other seven year old children – but then you can just about see Evelyn’s side, that if this mathematical genius really does have the ability to change the world – shouldn’t we be striving to achieve that? Yet Duncan is painted out as such a reprehensible, almost pantomime-like villain that it doesn’t allow for a balanced piece, and instead we want her to be crushed in the courtroom, and for Frank to get whatever he damn well wants. This is one of several themes explored within this movie, but none more superfluous than the romantic narrative between Frank and Bonnie. It would appear Webb became aware of this halfway through the shoot, as it’s dropped significantly, which begs the question of why it needed to be included in the first place.
That being said, Gifted remains an easy-to-watch drama that is profoundly moving in parts, and captivating in others – but the one real consistent here is the performance of Grace, who shines in the leading role. It’s not easy to believe that a child could be a prodigy, but she has that air of intellect about her, while at the same time she handles the bigger, emotionally driven scenes with ease – crying more authentically than many actors manage. She even outshines her co-star Evans, who while accomplished in the leading role of Frank, is sadly not quite given enough to do that could show off his acting credentials.