Saturday movie review: Gifted

The storyline of GIFTED — about a bachelor raising his young and astonishingly brilliant young niece after his sister's suicide — had me braced for a sweet and sappy affair when I was invited to a free screening of the film a few weeks ago. You know, a predictable tale typical of television movies most often run and rerun on basic cable channels.

gifted movie

GIFTED surprised me by its lack of sappiness and degree to which it rose above and beyond my expectations. What made it so much better than I braced for? Could be the feisty and frank gifted girl of the title. Perhaps it's the handsome bachelor who proves himself far more than eye candy as well as the blunt and beautiful teacher enamored by the fella. Could also be the the one-eyed cat named Fred, the bitchy grandmother, the outspoken and overly protective neighbor played by Octavia Spencer. Might be the screenplay that seems to solidly steer clear of sappy stereotypes of such a story.

I suppose it's all that and more, rolled into a drama that pleases on several levels, satisfies the sensibilities of varied demographics, and captivated the entire audience when my husband, youngest daughter, and I saw it on the big screen.

GIFTED is the story of Mary (Mckenna Grace), a seven-year-old prodigy being raised by her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Frank took over parenting duties when Mary's single mom committed suicide when Mary was a baby. All was fine and good until Frank decided to enroll Mary in public school. Her amazing math abilities are revealed to her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and things get crazy complicated from there.

The school principal encourages Frank to enroll Mary in a private school more worthy of her unique skills. Frank wants Mary to have a normal childhood. Bonnie crushes on Frank. Grandma Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) gets involved and wants custody of Mary — for self-serving spoiler purposes I won't reveal here — and landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who has been Mary's primary female figure as well as her best friend, goes all protective over the feisty little girl being fawned and fought over.

And then there's one-eyed Fred, the cat with a pivotal part.


GIFTED provides unexpected laughs, jeers, tears, cheers, plus a smidgen of swooning over the subtle love story. And it presents some thought-provoking fodder on what's truly best for an academically gifted child and those who love and adore her (plus a few who just want to use her). 

The relationship between Mary and Frank is indeed sweet — in a sensible, unsentimental way. Mary is more precocious than precious, which makes her all the more appealing to her uncle as well as moviegoers.

The relationship between Frank and Bonnie is complex, their honesty refreshing. Scrappy and loving Roberta is, well, Octavia at her spitfire spunkiest. And Lindsay Duncan's Evelyn just makes you want to shake some sweetness and sentimentality into her cold and calculating character. That said, I found Evelyn's monologue on the stand in a court room scene one of the more magnificent and memorable moments in the film.

GIFTED was written by Tom Flynn and directed by Marc Webb (500 DAYS OF SUMMER). There's nothing about their gifted collaboration that irked me, made me groan — except for Grandma Evelyn and a few other characters who got my briefs in a bunch. But that's what the characters were intended to do, so the discomfort and dislike simply underscores the actors' talent.

The smart story and superb performances made me, like much of the screening audience, alternate between chuckling and sniffling. (An older gentleman sitting next to my husband was literally sobbing at the end. And he was far from the only one with tears — of joy or sadness — at film's end.)

GIFTED also made me think. Long after the credits rolled I considered the dilemma of having a child with such abilities and what I may have done in such a situation, what ultimately is the right thing to do.

And GIFTED made me think about how silly I was to prejudge the film based on the basic outline of the potentially sappy story. The film is far from basic tearjerker fare. (Though I still suggest you have tissues on hand when viewing.)

A GIFTED featurette:

GIFTED (rated PG-13 for "thematic elements, language and some suggestive material) opens in select theaters April 7, 2017 and across the country April 21, 2017. Find out more on the film's official website.