FILM REVIEW: Gifted

If you’re in need of a little uplifting by Captain America and one of today’s most adorable child actors, Gifted will not disappoint.

In fact, that’s an understatement.

Immediately you’re cast into the deep end, thrown into Mary Adler’s (McKenna Grace) story in much the same way that she finds herself suddenly attending a public elementary school after years of homeschooling, despite the fact she’s a mathematics genius.

The way the story unfolds from there is admittedly predictable — maternal grandmother reenters the picture wanting to take advantage of Mary’s prowess, engaging in a custody battle with her son in order to do so — though that never detracts from those moments the audience roots for Mary, as she scrawls numbers and symbols and equations many of us have never seen before in our lives (and probably never will, beyond this film). It’s a fairly easy watch; it isn’t hard to predict when or what the heart wrenching moments will be, but they still tug at your strings nonetheless. There are fleetingly adorable moments that will try to provoke a smile or a laugh, and when faced with Grace and Evans’ chemistry, giving in is the easiest thing.

There are elements of the story that shock and surprise and slowly unveil themselves as the hour progresses, ones that help build the world without ever over-expanding it — and all the while, Grace remains the steady heartbeat that ties it all together. The talent in her little finger is more than most could hope for in a movie like this; I don’t think she’ll have any trouble at all with her career in the coming years. Jenny Slate as Mary’s teacher Bonnie is also a delight as always, bringing a lightness to Evans’ brooding onscreen presence in this film — though being that she is a minor role, she is essentially reduced to a sounding board for his character’s struggles, a way to shine a light on Evans when he isn’t in scenes with Grace.

Lindsay Duncan as Evelyn, Mary’s grandmother, phenomenally executed the gray area in which she lives, between wanting the best for Mary and also wanting her to be the best — no matter the cost. As Mary’s uncle and guardian, Frank, Evans plays spectacularly well against her, and in one of their last scenes together, the two of them blow so many of the film’s other scenes out of the water with a series of looks and even less words between them.

One scene in particular comes to mind, however, that no other in the entire film can touch: it takes place in a hospital, with Evans, Grace and Octavia Spencer’s Roberta (the Adlers’ landlord), and it is possibly one of the most touching moments in cinematic history that I know of to date. It seems simple and understated at first, but the emotion and the true intent behind the hospital visit drive it home. If you manage not to cry, I will personally applaud you on your way out of the theater.

These characters are real, these characters could be people you know — your neighbor could be a math genius like Spencer’s, after all (such a minor role that she predictably nails, even with as little time and lines as she has). That, to me, has always been the appeal of all movies. You take real people (ideally ones you can root for), place them into fantastical situations, then ground that situation in reality and watch them grow and learn over the course of an hour and a half.

Gifted was more than just a Hallmark movie about a custody battle for a child prodigy; it believably presented the dilemma that accompanies that level of genius in asking questions such as, ‘Are we setting the world back by allowing a genius like Mary to live a normal life, rather than share her gift with the world in the event it actually helps to better countless lives? Or are we worse for putting a child to work when she should be living her life and enjoying it while she can?’

I never like to spoil too much in my reviews, lest they start to sound more like recaps, and in this case, I feel that going into Gifted without any real expectations beyond the general premise is the best way to do it. What I will say, however, is Gifted will almost certainly make your eyes sting, either from the simple beauty of the shots or from the heartwarming story about an unexpected family that loves each other regardless of their gifts.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Favorite line: “He wanted me before I was smart.”

And if you’re somehow still on the fence…

Featured image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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