Released: 16th June 2017
Directed By: Marc Webb
Starring: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, McKenna Grace
Reviewed By: Hannah Woodhead
Although he’s got two Marvel blockbusters to his name, Marc Webb has struggled to replicate the success of his first feature, 500 Days of Summer. His take on Spider-Man divided audiences and critics, and as that franchise undergoes another reboot, Webb’s gone back to his indie roots – but he’s taken Captain America with him. The resulting film is Gifted – a charming, heartfelt and sincere story about an extraordinary young girl, and the conflicted uncle doing his best to provide for her.
Chris Evans takes on the role of Frank Adler, a stark contrast from his iconic role as Steve Rodgers, but one that enables him to flex his dramatic talents as much as he did in 2013’s Snowpiercer. Following his sister’s suicide, Frank becomes the guardian of her six-month-old daughter Mary, and raises her near Tampa, Florida. It becomes evident early on in Mary’s life that she is a remarkably gifted girl, but Frank worries continuously about giving her a normal life – something that his sister – also a mathematical genius – never got. After seven-year-old Mary begins attending public school for the first time, Frank’s mother Evelyn comes to town, intent on seeing that her granddaughter’s talent is nurtured with specialist teaching. A nasty custody battles ensues, in which both party are convinced they’re doing the right thing.
Whilst the plot might not be terribly original, Tom Flynn’s script is beautiful – the characters really come to life, and the dialogue exchanged between them doesn’t feel trite or stray into schmaltzy territory. His biggest achievement is creating well-rounded characters, with strengths and flaws, who you are able to relate to and sympathise with. Mary Adler is played by Mckenna Grace, already a seasoned pro at ten-years-old, who does a fantastic job at playing the bright, stubborn young mathematician – a real enfant terrible. Her chemistry with Chris Evans is brilliant, and they’re entirely believable as niece and uncle. Jenny Slate gives an understated but charming performance as Bonnie, Mary’s teacher, who falls for Frank whilst trying to ensure her young student gets the support she needs, whilst Lindsay Duncan plays Frank’s stern British mother, Evelyn. Octavia Spencer also appears in a supporting role as Frank’s neighbour and sometime childminder of Mary – it’s a cast bursting with talent, and they really do bring the fairly predictable plot to life.
The film’s score is provided by Rob Simonsen, who also created the scores for Life of Pi and 2016’s Nerve. It’s a sweeping mix of strings and piano that really heightens the emotional pull of the film – as does the present of a cute one-eyed cat called Fred. Georgia doubles for Florida as a shooting location, and it looks stunning, capturing the sort of lazy, small-town atmosphere that defines the normality Frank seeks to give his young niece.
But really, it’s the stellar cast and smart dialogue that make Gifted sing in the way it does. As a character study about the complexity of family relationships it really succeeds, and although it’s perhaps not ground-breaking, it’s a sweet, incredibly good-natured film.