On January 17th 2009, visionary and talented music video director Marc Webb made his feature length debut with the totally original and highly unusual romantic/comedy/drama 500 Days of Summer. The film, which went on to be a total critical success, box office spectacle and cult classic, made a name for Webb, who, with his original first film, landed the second leg of Spider-Man’s totally unnecessary “The Amazing” series reboot. Webb, who went on to direct two instalments of our friendliest neighbourhood superhero, re-casting Peter Parker with Andrew Garfield, [in our opinion] the best Peter Parker we have seen so far, was unable to tap into what made Summer so great, and really showed audiences how little creativity and imagination exists inside studio tentpole films. Sadly, while Webb’s Spider-Man films went on to make a ton of money, it proved that just because your movies make money after such a beloved independent film, does not mean that audiences actually adore your body of work. Luckily for audiences, Webb has finally returned to the small scale end of filmmaking, with his newest film Gifted; an emotional and human story of extraordinary circumstances, set with ordinary people.
Sadly, while big name studios continue to cultivate independent break-out directors for their high-profile tentpoles (Colin Treverrow and Jurassic World, Jordan Vogt-Roberts and Kong: Skull Island and Gareth Edwards and Godzilla) we are hoping that the day arrives that these absolutely amazing visionaries find a way to blend the creativeness that once made them recognized, with the profitable property they are in charged of brining to the big screen.
This time around, instead of Spidey, director Marc Webb had the chance of directing the Avenger’s Cap in this emotional and human story of selflessness and unconditional love. Gifted is by no means a large scale film, despite having Captain Avenger himself front and centre.
Evans plays Frank Adler, an ivy-league educated man who, until recently, was given the responsibility of raising his brilliant but deceased sister’s daughter Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace). Frank’s sister Diane was a brilliant mind, who was on the cusp of solving the Navier-Stokes Existence and Smoothness Millennium problem; one of seven of the Millennium Prize Problems. Now, if you are any no way mathematically inclined and have no idea what a Millennium Problem is, here is your history lesson. A Millennium Problem consists of seven of the most complex and difficult mathematical equations known to mankind (yes, they really exist).
Upon learning of Diane’s suicide, Frank acts as Mary’s de facto guardian, and keeping his promise to his sister, devotes his life to keeping Mary’s life as normal as possible; which includes enrolling her into public school in Florida, having friends [even if her only friend is a fifty year old Motown-loving neighbour Roberta Taylor, played wonderfully by Octavia Spencer], and most of all, making a life for herself outside of her wicked mathematical talents.
On Mary’s first day in school, despite Frank’s wishes to stay under the radar, Mary does the complete opposite of Frank’s demands, acting up and showcases her math skills, immediately becoming the star-studded student of the school, especially to that of her teacher, Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate) and school principle Gloria Davis (Elizabeth Marvel). Mary, unable to contain her big personality in such a little shell, is beyond herself and really not able to contain her spunky personality. Noticing her immense gift and talents, Principle Davis is willing to give Mary a free ride and ticket to a prestigious private school nearby. Frank, who gives his own very convincing case, declines all of the offers given to Mary, insisting she live a normal life filled with childhood instances, friendships and most of all, playfulness.
While Frank and Mary seem to be blending into their humble and comfortable lives in Florida, both of their lives are shaken drastically with the emergence of Frank’s mother (Mary’s grandmother) Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who believes that Mary’s mind is a gifted one-in-a-billion mathematical prodigy mind, who should continue her late mother’s legacy and begin working, while still a child, on the Millennium Problem, given her very abstract and young handle of advance calculus problems and solutions. What continues is an ugly and emotional custody battle for Mary between her Uncle Frank and Grandmother Evelyn,.
While the majority of the film shows a firm direction in which Frank wants Mary’s life to play out, Frank is never certain that what and how he is allowing Mary’s life to unfold is the right choice. Stricken with constant doubt and uneasiness, Frank’s biggest fear in his life is ruining Mary’s. As the relationship between Bonnie and Frank grows, and their fears and desires for Mary are shared on Friday nights at a local bar (a day that is given to Frank to alleviate from his duties as caregiver), Bonnie and Frank make it very clear that Mary is just a child, one who needs to act accordingly and live out the innocent portions of her life, unlike her mother, who’s life in a lab arguably lead to her tragic suicide.
Gifted is a very tender and touching story of love lost, love found and love cherished. The film is never sensationalized at any points given the very rare circumstances of Mary’s talents. Instead, while many may argue that Gifted spends too much time exploring different genres (a courtroom drama, a romantic comedy, a melodrama and a buddy comedy), Gifted shows how easily capable a narrative with a heart and soul can tread water into so many genres without seeming all too cliched or overplayed.
Gifted is easily one of my favourite films of 2017 so far. Aside from all the very cliched and very to easy to swallow subject matter, one of my favourite aspects of Gifted are the small little human bits the film so easily shares on screen. One of the many graces of the film, is hands down, the cast. While Spencer has a very small role in the film, flexing her acting muscles and real muscles on screen, showing an even more unconditional love to Mary, one that Frank does not even show as apparently, Spencer really gives Mary a little taste of a maternal presence.
Evans, who spends most of his career lately in a blue, red and white spandex body suit, shows his acting chops in Gifted. Sure, Evans did have a little taste of directing a film with Before We Go, that got mild buzz and not much else, Evans is able to express all of his true indie-ness with Gifted, behind Webb’s lens. Evans plays the part of a forced parent quite well; mixing the expressions of a man who forces himself to be grown up and responsible, when his innate and raw emotions are to be irresponsible, careless, young and handsome. There are many scenes that showcase Evans’ ability to show genuine empathy, love and happiness, that is only given a small glimpse in his superhero counterpart.
While Evans is a true marvel in Gifted, the real, small gift in the film is non-other than its very desired star McKenna Grace. Grace is the heart, soul and essence of Gifted. While Evans hold down all of the courtroom scenes with poise and absolute conviction, Grace is the reason why many of the scenes in the film flow so well, light-heartedly and then, forcefully, emotional and gut-wrenching. While many can argue that the film dips into too many genres as a negative, we see it as something of a positive. Many reasons why Gifted is able to tread water in the comedic and dramatic genres is because of the wonderful chemistry between Grace and Evans. Grace, switches on her very mature adult Mary at moments when children and young adults would portray the subject matter as forced or inauthentic. Grace on the other hand, handles her character as a little adult, a little woman in a young person’s body, extracting laughs, cries and sighs from its audience, almost on demand. Whether its climbing up Frank’s arm behind a beautiful sunset; having serious talks about their house rules; or her opinions on who and where she wants to spend her life with, McKenna is the best and greatest reason to watch Gifted. If you aren’t convinced of McKenna’s star power after this film, you might as well watch The Sixth Sense again and hope that Haley Joel Osmont might make a comeback from child star, to adult actor powerhouse.
While many may call me a sap or someone who is just so easily fooled or tricked into loving highly emotional and beautifully tender films between children and adults, I truly can argue that Gifted is a beautiful film that many families, adults and children alike should watch and enjoy.
One of the most interesting aspects in the film is the relationship between Frank and his mother Evelyn and their handling of their difference of opinion. Both Frank and Evelyn both don’t share many of the same feelings and hopes and dreams for Mary, but what screenwriter Tom Flynn does so well with his script is highlighting the healthy and very sorrowful emotions but individual have for their fallen Diane. While Evelyn and Frank really are enemies in the film, Flynn mixes in scenes between the two that are equally comedic, sincere and quite sweet, despite the two being at opposite ends of the courtroom when it comes down to Mary. Evans and Duncan do a masterful job of allowing us to understand each one of their character’s intentions, and why, which is always a great aspect of drama films; allowing for the antagonist and protagonist to be somewhat unclear at points.
Gifted is the type of pre-summer movie that will get audiences to fall in love with simple story-telling with some added twists and turns for good measure. The film makes great use of its acting talent, its director and most of all, its young and rising star McKenna. In case you don’t believe me, keep an eye out for one of, if not the BEST hospital scene I have EVER seen in any film before, despite the film’s attempt to really cheese itself to death in the final frames.
Gifted is pleasurable and pleasing cinema for the human heart. While many may find a movie like this cavity inducing, sometimes, we just need a love and the light-hearted touch of a child to remind other children, adults and all people that life is full of a whole lot of crappy, but even more gifts that each and everyone takes advantage of, on a daily basis. Luckily for us and for you, this little gem of a film can be one that be argued about ad nauseam.
Night Film Reviews: 9.5 Stars out of 10.
What did you think of Gifted? A little gift or a film that holds on to its treasures for far too long? What did you think of Chris Evans? Should be retire his Cap suit and keep doing wonderful Indies or stay with the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Is McKenna as wonderful as we say? Or does she overstay her welcome as cute, adorable and wonderful? Leave your gifted thoughts below!