Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review: "Gifted" (2017)

Director: Marc Webb
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
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A seven-year-old girl named Mary, who has been raised by her uncle Frank in Florida, begins her first day of public school. When the school learns she is a mathematical genius, they want to place her in a special and posh private institution. When Frank refuses, saying he wants Mary to have a normal childhood, her estranged grandmother shows up to demand custody of the child in order to nurture her genius. 

"Gifted" is directed by Marc Webb, who is known for directing the "The Amazing Spiderman" and its sequel, as well as "500 Days of Summer." It is written by Tom Flynn and is his first screenplay in 15 years. It stars Chris Evans as Frank Adler, a man who has been raising his seven-year-old niece Mary, played by Mckenna Grace, since she was a baby. Upon sending her to public school, Mary's teacher Bonnie, played by Jenny Slate, quickly realizes that Mary is gifted. When the school principal recommends Mary be transferred to a preparatory school that will nurture her mind, Frank refuses. Upon learning of her genius, Mary's estranged grandmother Evelyn, played by Lindsay Duncan, shows up to Florida demanding custody of Mary so she can nurture her gift properly. In other words, Evelyn wants to boss her around like she did with her mother Diane, who passed away when she was just a baby.

We have a feeling filmmakers really wanted to call this movie "There's Something About Mary," but knew that title was already taken. "Gifted" is one of those films where different philosophies for raising a child collide. On one hand, you have the kind-hearted Frank, who wants Mary to have a normal childhood with friends, fun, and laughter, you know, kid things, regardless of her mathematical prowess. On the other hand, you have the stern, regimented, and logical Evelyn, who wants Mary to be trained by private tutors so she can become one of the greatest mathematical minds of the 21st century. Both of them make good points, and what's best for Mary likely falls somewhere in the middle. Of the two people fighting for sole custody, Frank is the far more likable character. There is also a bit of class warfare as well as Frank chooses a blue collar job fixing boats, and Evelyn is a wealthy intellectual who doesn't seem to be employed, but certainly has money. It's essentially all about rich vs. poor and social education vs. intellectual education. A good portion of the film involves a courtroom battle where lawyers spin reality to favor their respective client. 

We have all seen movies like this in the past, but the real question is, can "Gifted" do anything special to set itself apart from the other loads of films just like it? Luckily, this movie is still mostly interesting and quite engaging. Chris Evans puts on a solid performance as a man who has essentially had his life turned upside down to do everything he can for his niece. Mckenna Grace is absolutely adorable and performs her role with the right balance between smart and smart-ass. The two of them feel like two peas in a pod and really do have tremendous chemistry. The rest of the cast is also excellent. Octavia Spencer puts on a worthy performance as Frank's next door neighbor Roberta, who has watched Mary grow since she was a wee little tot. Lindsay Duncan seems made for the role of controlling, intellectual, mostly absent grandmother. She plays her part with a methodical, cold calculation, and we're not saying that's a bad thing. There are a few emotional moments even, if they are a bit manipulative and overly sappy, but sometimes that's just what we need. Overall, "Gifted" might not boast an entirely new premise, but it is still a very cute, charming film worth checking out if you like anybody involved in this project.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 66%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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