Dan's Review: Reality takes a break in "Gifted"
Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace in Gifted - © 2017 Fox Searchlight.
Gifted (Fox Searchlight)
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material.
Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Julie Ann Emery, Jona Xiao, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, Candace B. Harris, Jon Sklaroff, Keir O'Donnell.
Written by Tom Flynn.
Directed by Marc Webb.
There aren’t many issues more polarizing than child custody cases. Many films (mostly Lifetime TV fare) have tackled “who gets the child” battles, and most of them suffer from a clichéd set of circumstances unique to cinema. Real custody battles can be much more brutal or much more procedural than they seem in the movies, while it’s much more difficult to discern between protagonists and antagonists. Gifted, the story of a little girl with a genius mind caught in a custody battle between her uncle and grandmother hits theaters this week.
Chris Evans sheds his Captain America shield to play Frank, a philosophy professor-turned-boat-mechanic living in Florida with his cute 6-year-old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). Living nearby is Frank’s landlord and friend Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who also takes care of Mary when Frank is working (or sipping beer alone at the local watering hole). When Frank decides to send Mary to public school, her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) immediately notices the girl’s mathematical genius, and reports the situation to the school principal (Elizabeth Marvel), who tries to convince Frank that the girl belongs in a school for gifted children. Frank resists, hoping to give Mary a normal life with other children. He has his reasons, since Mary was “given” to him by his sister (the girl’s mother) shortly before committing suicide. She chose Frank to raise the girl to avoid the influence of their mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), a domineering woman driven by academic achievement. When Mary has trouble socializing with the other kids, Evelyn learns of her whereabouts and sues for Mary’s custody, hoping to raise her up in a privileged Boston environment where her math skills can be honed into academic glory. A court battle ensues, and Frank is given the option of placing Mary in a nearby foster home rather than allowing Evelyn’s complete control over the girl. He soon discovers that Evelyn has a few tricks up her sleeve, and confronts her with the truth about his sister’s suicide.
Gifted is a beautiful film with an excellent cast. Mckenna Grace is adorable, while other cast mates round out a likable ensemble (even Lindsay Duncan, who gives a little humanity to an otherwise cartoonish villain). Chris Evans is also very charming – almost too charming – in a role that doesn’t quite fit reality (a hunky, single, philosophy professor on sabbatical as a boat mechanic, but also a top-notch father). He’s a fine actor, but the character is written a little too far away from reality.
Then, there’s the aforementioned reality of custody battles, which don’t always have a “Hollywood ending,” nor Deus Ex Machina plot devices that materialize and tie things up in a nice little bow. Gifted tries very hard to simplify a complex situation, and it doesn’t always come across as genuine.
While there is real emotion on display in Gifted, you must always remind yourself that it is a film intended for entertainment purposes only. It’s also okay to enjoy a sweet film, without expecting genius in the margins.