Gifted is an unusual movie in the contemporary film landscape, it is a character driven melodrama with heart and moral ambiguity, where the principle characters are all easily relatable. The choices Frank (Chris Evans) has to make are truly heartbreaking, especially with the betrayal that comes later on.
On the surface, Gifted could easily be seen in a cynical sense of the merging of several genre tropes crammed together, the single parental figure raising a child against all odds, a custody battle mode (cue Kramer vs Kramer) and the lowly maths genius from the wrong side of the tracks who feels alone and trapped by circumstances until a kindly teacher tries to improve their life (Good Will Hunting); only this time the young maths genius is actually a seven year old girl.
Gifted is more than just a typical cliché family melodrama. The complicated and realistic relationship between the characters gives the story more depth than you usually find in this type of story. It’s this realism and relatability that also goes a long way towards redeeming Chris Evans into being a real actor again, instead of just another guy in a body suit with a shield in front of a green screen.
The film’s main plot follows Frank (Evans) trying to raise his niece Mary, portrayed with a sincere warmth and heart, on his own. She is not the typical obnoxious math genius or child-star you usually find in these types of films, instead there is a real authenticity to her work. Marc Webb, the director, and writer Tom Flynn manage to make Mary an engaging character long before we discover her special gifts.
The first outsider to grasp Mary’s gift is her first-grade teacher, played by Jenny Slate (Evans’ former partner). The quirkiness one usually associates with Slate’s character is mellowed here is refreshingly replaced with a more sincere “real person”. Frank’s goal in life is to make sure Mary has a normal, happy, healthy life of friends, girl scouts and the prom — unlike her late mother, whose life was dedicated to mathematics. Lindsay Duncan also gives an excellent portrayal as Frank’s mother and Mary’s grandmother. Once she is back on the scene and discovers Mary has the family gift, naturally trouble ensues, academics, lawyers, custody battles.
There are a lot of philosophical questions running throughout this film; if one has an extraordinary talent is it wasting your life not to use them? Is being normal or average a good thing? Must we all conform?
Much like the aforementioned Kramer vs Kramer, the script is ambiguous here in regards to who is actually the better care giver for Mary – not that the audience is left with to much doubt of the correct choice. The moral dilemma that it shows is much like many custody battles: No-one is entirely wrong, no-one is entirely right. What would be better for the genius child: Gruelling and stifling academic pursuits with old grey haired men in suits all day, or just being a kid and having fun? Nature versus nurture.
This film is sincere, full of heart, joy, warmth, anger, sorrow and even finds time to some genuinely funny moments. This is the first film I have seen in a very long, long time that I have actually felt a relatable connection between the characters on the screen and the audience. By the time the credits roll it is clear the characters and the audience have developed an intense involvement with each other.