A Retrospective of 2017’s ‘Gifted’, and Why it Didn’t Work

Back in 2007, Marc Webb directed the refreshing and raw 500 Days of Summer. A film that saw him catapulted into the world of Hollywood, later directing The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. On the surface, Gifted appeared to be the perfect move for Webb, a step back from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Instead of super heroes and villains, Webb has decided to tackle a low budget family drama. How I wish that I could say that Webb has succeeded in his transition back to his filmmaking roots. Unfortunately, Gifted lacks the authenticity that it so desperately deserved.

Gifted centres around seven- year old math prodigy, Mary (Mckenna Grace), who lives in a small town with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans). Frank takes in Mary after the suicide of her mother, a mathematical genius who struggled with the mounting pressure of success. Committed to ensuring Mary does not meet the same fate, Frank makes it his mission to provide her with a normal and happy childhood.

This normality involves sending Mary off to first grade in a public school. After being home-schooled for most of her life, Mary struggles to ‘fit in’ due to her impressive mathematical skills and her poor social skills. Her teacher (Jenny Slate) recognises her ‘gift’ and reports it to the headmaster who believes Mary would be better suited in a school for special children. Frankly fiercely refuses but it’s not long before Frank’s wealthy and overbearing Mother, Evelyn becomes involved. What comes next is a bitter custody battle between the two and the question is asked, what life should Mary have?

Unfortunately, the court battle is formulaic, and the character of Evelyn is sadly underwritten. This leads to tedious court room scenes that ultimately spiral towards a predictable conclusion. The redeeming quality of the film is the chemistry between Chris Evans and McKenna Grace. The two inject life into the film, Grace’s performance is one full of energy and spirit, her comedic timing is easily a scene stealer. Although, what really stands out, is her ability to make the audience feel her desperation and isolation. The relationship between the uncle and niece proves to be more compelling than the dull court scene.

In recent years, Chris Evans has made quite a career from playing Marvel’s Captain America. However, this return to drama is a welcomed attempt. His portrayal of a hardworking and dedicated uncle is refreshing and relatable. Octavia Spencer has a small supporting role as Roberta, Mary’s neighbour, and close friend. Whilst brilliant as always, Spencer’s only appears in a couple of scenes and her appearances are annoyingly brief. Her character is under-developed and this highlights the clumsiness of the script.  Like Evans, her chemistry with Grace is heart-warming and honest, something that should have been utilized further. Jenny Slate is a breath of fresh air, her role as a caring school teacher is quirky and delightful. However, her character is lost in the second half of the film and had me begging for her return.

Gifted is a sweet and charming film that attempts to examine the relationship between a little girl and her uncle. When it’s good, it takes off, the laugh-out-loud moments are heart-warming and clever. However, the film struggled to find its purpose with the script easily the weakest elements. Flynn was unsure about what the film was trying to say. The chemistry between the lead actors is what steers this film in the right direction. Gifted presents moments of magic but sadly they are too far and few between.

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Katherine Sullivan

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