Gifted (2017) Review
BUT STILL A HEARTWARMING
Actor Chris Evans started out down the standard path of a acting career by performing in school production and community theater as well as attending a college institute to enhance his acting talents. Eventually, while he started in several smaller projects, including Not Another Teen Movie and The Perfect Score, Evans began to make a mark for himself with the 2004 film Cellular, which was then followed his role as Johnny Storms (aka “Human Torch) in 2005’s Fantastic Four; a time when superhero movies were just starting to brought into mainstream pop culture, From there, Evans did more projects, becoming a more widely known in Hollywood as his next really big milestone came when he took up the mantle of portraying Marvel’s Steve Rogers (Captain America) in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, a big break, which scored him a multi-film contract deal with Marvel’s growing cinematic universe. As a fun fact of sort, Evans is the only actor who has played four comic book / graphic novel characters (i.e. Steve Rogers in the MCU movies, Johnny Storm in 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel, Jensen from 2010’s The Losers, and Lucas Lee from 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Despite his involvement in the comic book film adaptions, Evans still has time for non-superhero movies, including the fan-favorite 2013 film Snowpiecer. Evans as even wanted to gone behind the camera with the 2014 film Before We Go, which he made his directorial debut and starred in the feature as well. Now, Evans moves to look beyond the role of his recent superhero performance as Captain America, as Fox Searchlight Pictures and director Marc Webb present the film Gifted. Does Evans have the acting chops to make the jump to this more smaller scale indie film or will he forever be typecast as a superhero star and nothing more?
Frank Alder (Chris Evans) is a single man, working an honest hardworking job of repairing jobs at a local dock in a Florida coastal town. Frank’s niece Mary (Mary (McKenna Grace), an exceptional bright and spirited seven-year old, lives with him, who’s Frank has raised since she was a baby after his sister Diane, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide. Upon sending her to public school (to receive a normal school life for his niece), Mary’s teacher Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate) quickly realizes that Mary is gifted. Seeing opportunity with their student, the school principal recommends Mary to be transferred to a preparatory school that will nurture her highly intellect mind. Unfortunately, Frank refused, adamant in believing Mary should have a normal life, which prompts the school to contact Frank’s estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who shows up on Frank’s doorstep and demands custody of Mary so she can give Mary a proper education (and a more promising future). As Frank and Evelyn go to court for guardianship over Mary, Mary herself is caught in the middle, trying to figure out who she liked to live with…. her uncle or her grandmother?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As an actor and in his performance, I do like Chris Evans. I have nothing wrong with him and (for the most part) like the movies that he stars in. Of course, I do like him the most as Steve Rogers / Captain America in the Marvel movies, but I like him in his other roles (i.e. Fantastic Four, The Losers, and Cellular). I still haven’t seen Snowpiecer yet (I do plan to) and I didn’t like Push (I think I merely just hated the execution and overall directing of that particular movie rather than Evan’s role). Anyways, I remember seeing the trailer for Gifted many times in my “movie theater” outings. From my initial thoughts of seeing this movie, I was definitely intrigued to see it. Not just because of the story was interesting, but because it showed Chris Evans in a different “acting role”, especially just coming off of Captain America: Civil War. What did think of this movie? Well, despite some flaws here and there, Gifted is definitely a “crowd pleaser” film that tugs on the heartstrings and that’s performed wonderfully by its two main leads. To me, it wasn’t anything new or original, but it was still a touching movie that I enjoyed watching.
Gifted is directed by Marc Webb, who’s previous work includes (500) Days of Summer and Amazing Spider-Man (both the 2012 one and its 2014 sequel). In truth, while I did enjoy both Amazing Spider-Man movies, I do have admit that those two films had their fair share of problems. So, it seems that Webb moves back into his realm of a more indie film project with Gifted (less blockbuster and more like (500) Days of Summer. To be truthful, the movie could’ve gone several different ways, a bit more dramatic and heavy-handed or more lighthearted, or even more sweet and sentimental. What Webb ultimately does with the movie is that he pulls a little bit from all those attributes, but maybe a bit more on the emotional sentimentality side of things. All in all, for many of the films shortcomings (I’ll talk about those below), Gifted does find a lot of heart, making you feel for the characters of Frank and Mary, and even for Evelyn. As a side-note, the film, while only having a budget of roughly $ 7 million, is made with enough love and care to make it look pleasing to the eye. This means that the set layouts, costumes, and camera angles are all presented quite nicely. Even the film’s score, composed by Rob Simonsen) and the film’s musical song selection are pleasing to listen, fitting the overall tone of the feature.
For the most part, the film’s script, penned by Tom Flynn, keeps the narrative focus on Mary, Frank, and Evelyn. This means that the Flynn nor Webb goes off on a tangent with any unnecessary sub-plot ideas (well, maybe just one), but, the movie’s narrative path is kept to be focused on Mary and her two guardian parental figures. Delving into the film’s subject matter, Gifted is a sort of mixture of a “Little Man Tate” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” for some deep (but not too deep) courtroom drama between the overall custody of Mary Adler. Going further, the film also presents an interesting “after movie” debate discussion on Frank’s actions with Mary’s future. Was it right for him to want to give Mary a “normal childhood” life? Was it right for him to not want Mary to attend a gifted school, denying her a proper education and the intellectual potential of her future? Is it right for Evelyn to step into Mary’s life when she was never really a part of it in the first? The movie never really clearly defines that the choices are right or wrong, but Webb and Flynn do sort of nudge you towards one direction. However, it’s a good way to open up a topic for debate amongst viewers.
Unfortunately, Gifted has some flaws within its undertaking. Perhaps the most notable is that the movie is feel formulaic. Yes, it’s a compelling plot (i.e. two people, who have the best of intentions, are fighting over guardianship of an exceptional bright child), but it’s pretty straightforward and almost fairly predictable on what’s ultimately going to happen by the time the film gets to end credits. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it just makes the cinematic journey of the feature a bit underwhelming As I said that the movie is heartwarming, there are few times where they try a bit too hard to make us (the viewers) feel emotional (aka cry). Again, this didn’t bother me (I didn’t cry), but some might call Gifted as a sappy type film. Additionally, there are a couple of tonal shift issues as Webb sometimes moves between drama and comedy to quickly, which makes those transitions a bit uneven when there flipping between those moments of comedic levity and heartwarming drama. Lastly, there are at least one plot thread that doesn’t really get resolved by the film’s end.
Of course, as I stated in the opening paragraph, one of the big draws to see Gifted is seeing Chris Evans as one of the two main leads in the movie. Ditching his Captain America costume and shield, Evans gets himself a rugged / scruffy beard and a Floridian tan in the role of Frank. Evans does quite well in the role, having enough stage presence as a male lead and certainly has the right acting chops in performing in an indie drama such as Gifted (something that he wants to and not be “typecast” as a Marvel superhero). Evans also does a good job in showcasing a more wider range of emotion that he did as Captain America’s Steve Rogers, displaying the exact amount of theatrical pathos and parental figure levity / gravitas when a scene calls for it. All in all, it’s quite a nice “break away” from his more popular role in the Marvel universe.
Behind Evans (some might debate that she outshines Evans in the movie) is young child actress McKenna Grace as the spirited and intelligent Mary. Grace, known for her roles in several TV shows including Young and Restless, Designated Survivor, and Once Upon a Time, does exceptionally work as Mary, proving to be a real showstopper of the picture. She’s adorable and as the right amount of brainac smarts and childish smart ass attitude in her performance, delivering a very memorable role for the young actress. It also helps that both her and Evans share great on-screen chemistry with each other in a uncle / niece relationship. Giving her performance in Gifted, I’m hope to see Grace in more juicer roles in her career. Like her character Mary, Grace as promising future.
The rest of characters in Gifted are more delegated to supporting players to Evans and Grace. Though there are comprised of a small group, there well-realized individual characters / personas more so than one might think. Actress Lindsay Dunce, known for her roles in HBO’s TV show Rome as well as About Time and Under the Tuscan Sun, plays the role of Evelyn, Frank’s estrange mother who comes to whisk her Mary away to enhance her granddaughter’s mind and keen intellect. Duncan brings a more gravitas to the role (maybe because she’s British), but she certainly does that, bringing her strong theatrical caliber to role that could’ve been over-acted or a one-note performance. Behind her is actress Jenny Slate, known for his roles several animated voice-works in such projects as Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, and Bob’s Burgers, plays Mary’s teacher Bonnie Stevenson. Slater has a natural charming presence about her, which helps buy into her character, but, as I said above, her somewhat romantic relationship with Evan’s Frank is a bit inconclusive by the film’s end. Lastly, Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer has a small side role as Frank’s a bit outspoken neighbor Roberta. While it’s probably the smallest and least impactful role she’s played so far this year (see her in Hidden Figures and The Shack), Spencer still delivers a quality performance that’s only she can bring.
How we should raise a gifted and / or bright children is the fundamental question at the center of the movie Gifted. Director Marc Webb’s newest indie drama sheds some light on interesting parenting subject as well as delivering some solid performances, especially in Evans and Grace. While it may not be nothing new or original, the movie still is well-crafted, handled with care, and does offer some great (yet still light) theatrical dramatic moments, making the feature feel compelling to us (the viewers). Overall, I liked this movie. Yes, there was real no big surprises in the movie and it was a bit formulaic at times, but it was still a wholesome (and heartwarming) tale to watch. Thus, I would give my stamp of approval of this movie as being “recommended” or even as a strong and suitable choice as a rental when it comes out later on. In the end, while it may be overlooked by some, but Gifted is a charming movie that tells an emotional story, a somewhat debatable question on how to raise a exceptional gifted child, and the connection that an uncle (Frank) has with his niece (Mary).
3.9 out of 5 (Recommended / Rent It)
Released On: April 12th, 2017
Reviewed On: April 16th, 2017
Gifted is 101 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material