Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Gifted

            Frank Adler (Evans) is dedicated to a simple life as a freelance boat repairman.  He lives is a community of tiny shacks outside of Tampa with his seven-year-old, math genius niece Mary (Grace).  They have a nice friendship with their neighbor Roberta (Spencer), who babysits Mary when Frank goes to his favorite lakeside bar.  He gets quite friendly with Mary’s first grade teacher, Miss Stevenson (Slate).  Life is fine until Frank’s mother Evelyn (Duncan) barges in & tries to get the courts to bring her granddaughter, who she has never met, to Boston for a “proper”, advanced education.
            Gifted is the best movie about parenting this side of Ron Howard’s Parenthood a quarter-century ago.  Gifted is not about young Mary.  She is the match that lights the fire that ignites the movie.  This is a movie about the fragility of childrearing.  Every choice you make as a parent, from which school they attend to the type of ketchup they eat, will have long-term ramifications.  We all know someone whose child is that outstanding citizen or that one who doesn’t quite make it.  Gifted is the perfect examination of the latter.  Evelyn Adler is, without mincing words, a terrible person.  Screenwriter Tom Flynn (first theatrical credit since 1993’s Watch It) walks the fine line between cartoonish evil & humanly evil but the script has its feet firmly planted on the latter’s side.  We all know person who takes “helicopter parenting” a little too far and Evelyn fits that definition to a T and Duncan excels in the role.  It is pretty obvious that Frank is trying his best but you can see in some of the smaller moments that he didn’t sign up for this but he must give it 110% and Frank is game for trying.
            Gifted relies way too much on the courtroom in the second act.  Most of the drama here is expository & Flynn uses the court system as a crutch.  Luckily, director Marc Webb (free from the constraints of studio interference of The Amazing Spider-Man) makes sure the courtroom doesn’t overtake the genuine family drama here.  Outside the courtroom, Gifted works as a heart-tugger until the exceptional third act reveal rips it out & dangles it in front of you.  Additionally, there is a hospital waiting room scene that will test your tear ducts.
            Chris Evans shows he is more than just Captain America here.  But if you’ve been watching him for nearly 20 years, you know that already.  Octavia Spencer could play Roberta in her sleep but is still solid in the role.  Jenny Slate is given too little to do outside the first act but has enough charisma that she doesn’t litter the background the few times she is on-screen  McKenna Grace as Mary is the rare young actor who outshines every adult.  She has to be that talented in order to make us believe that she is naturally writing all those equations & throwing out all that mathematical jargon.  Her emotional scenes with Evans will lower your purse’s tissue inventory.
            Gifted is kind of movie that could have been a lazy, Saturday night Lifetime movie.  Instead, what Webb puts together with a mostly solid script & an exceptional cast is more than admirable.  It’s thought-provoking & genuinely touching.