Frank (Chris Evans), a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), is drawn into a custody battle with his mother.
I still remember watching #NotAnotherTeenMovie many years ago and seeing #ChrisEvans playing the role of #JakeWyler, the popular jock. He was one of many young actors throughout the film, one who did not particularly stand out from the crowd but over the years, he gradually worked his way up the #Hollywood ladder, eventually taking on the role of #JohnnyStorm in two #Fantastic4 movies, neither of which set the box office on fire, unlike his alter ego, #HumanTorch. Cut to 2011 and one of #Marvel’s hottest properties, #CaptainAmerica: #TheFirstAvenger, wisely cast him as the titular character and unlike the “Fantastic 4” properties (which would later be remade into Josh Trank’s horrendous #FantasticFour), this movie set the world ablaze, cementing his status within the #MCU, going on to appear in two superior sequels as well as co-starring in #TheAvengers and its follow-up. As Captain America, his matter-of-fact approach, coupled along with his desire and need to always do the right thing, turned him into a hero the world could root for, but one that was also susceptible to injury and pain.
With #Gifted, Mr. Evans takes on the starring role of Frank Adler, a single man who after the tragic suicide of his sister years earlier, took it upon himself to take care of and raise her infant daughter Mary (#MckennaGrace), taking her out of Boston and down to Florida to live with him, becoming her de facto guardian. Now six years old, Frank has home-schooled her to the best of his ability but decides that it is time for her to go to public school, and make some new friends along the way. Their happy existence quickly changes, however, when one of her teachers realizes that she is in fact, a mathematical genius. Taking it to the school’s principal, she informs Frank that it would be in Mary’s best interest if she were to attend a more upscale school, one that caters to kids of her stature and that she could help get her a scholarship. But Frank turns down her offer, stating that his sister, Mary’s mother, was one of the top mathematicians in the country and who was forced into that life by their overbearing and dogmatic mother, Evelyn (#LindsayDuncan), once she realized her capabilities, a life that encompassed so much pressure to be the next big name, she ultimately took her own life. Frank wants normalcy for Mary, where she can go to school, play with her friends, and live in a world with no semblance of her mother’s chaotic universe.
Naturally, once Mary’s grandmother Evelyn hears the news, she turns up on Frank’s doorstep, telling him that it would be in Mary’s and his best interest to allow her to take her back to Boston where she could attend a school that would help her with her gift. Frank refuses and when she threatens to take him to court, stating that he actually took Mary from Boston without the proper authorization, he informs her that throughout her six years, never once did she try and make contact with her, and that the only reason for her sudden appearance, is because his sister’s gift has undoubtedly been passed along to Mary and that Evelyn wants to groom her for a life devoted to mathematics, something Frank will tenaciously fight against.
So many times in movies, child actors can either be adorable, or despicable, depending on their character and circumstance. Young Mckenna Grace, who plays the gifted Mary, encompasses a huge array of emotions, and because she has grown up with her uncle and his best friend Roberta (#OctaviaSpencer), she has only ever known adults in her life and thinks other kids are beneath her. While this could come across as condescending and patronizing, Mckenna exudes a confidence that proves she is wise beyond her years, and that, in fact, other kids would only slow her down, as she is mentally years ahead of them. Mary matures rapidly throughout the course of the film, mentally taking everything in, from Frank’s obvious fondness of her teacher Bonnie (#JennySlate), to his evident dislike of his own mother, willing to fight her in court so that he can keep Mary with him. Chris Evans finally gets the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and does so with great aplomb. For the most part, he underplays all of his scenes, allowing Mckenna to steal the spotlight, watching her intently from the background but in one scene towards the end of the movie, having been separated from each other for some time, they embrace each other as if they had not seen each other for years, and he finally wears his emotions on his sleeve, causing this reviewer to shed a tear. Or two.
Octavia Spencer is phenomenal, as usual, but sadly, she is way underused, relegated to a couple of scenes but she makes each and every one of them count. Director #MarcWebb, no stranger to superhero movies himself after #TheAmazingSpiderMan and #TheAmazingSpiderMan2, proves, like Mr. Evans, that he can do much more than just blow up cars and buildings. Given the right material, he can craft an emotionally rewarding narrative, filled with charming yet sympathetic characters, living real lives who sometimes engage in dramatic but believable situations. While I thoroughly enjoy big-budget action films, “Gifted” was an absolute joy to behold and I was captivated from the very beginning. Never once does the story veer into absurdity, rather, it sticks with sensibility and is a faithful rendering of real life, a crucial aspect missing from so many other movies of its ilk. It is still early in the year yet but if I could only recommend one film to date, it would be “Gifted.”
“Gifted” opens in theaters April 7th
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