Thursday, April 06, 2017

“Gifted”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Gifted”, starring Chris Evans and Jenny Slate. 


When a child prodigy is raised by her uncle, can they remain together after her talents are discovered or will they be forced to part ways permanently?


In the Pinellas County section of Florida, Frank Adler (Evans) does his best to raise his seven year old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), a prodigy in mathematics.  Feeling it would be in the child’s best interests to be treated as an average girl, he enrolls her in first grade at the local public school.  It doesn’t take long to see this plan isn’t going to work.  Her teacher Bonnie (Slate) quickly recognizes Mary’s gifts, but also sees the child’s boredom and impatience turn her into a behavioral liability.  When the principal recommends Mary be placed in a school for gifted children, Frank is reluctant; even though she would get a scholarship, he is concerned about Mary’s welfare in such an environment.

At this point, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) shows up at Frank’s doorstep; she’s Mary’s grandmother and now that the child’s education is at stake, she suddenly wants to be involved in her granddaughter’s life.  Frank opposes this because he wants Mary to stay with him and because he believes Evelyn will ruin Mary’s life.  This sparks a fierce argument between Frank and Evelyn.  He is raising Mary because her father abandoned her and her mother (Frank’s sister), Diane, committed suicide; Frank therefore fears Evelyn will have the same toxic influence on Mary’s life that she did with Diane. 

Enraged, the wealthy Evelyn takes Frank – a relative pauper – to court battling over which one of them will get custody of Mary.  In the meantime, Evelyn’s lawyer is able to get the judge to grant her permission for a visit from Mary; during this time, Evelyn’s true reasons for wanting custody of Mary become evident.  It turns out that assuming custody of Mary would potentially resolve two problems for Evelyn:  one has to do with unfinished business she had with her own daughter and the other concerns some unfulfilled dreams Evelyn had for her own career.  Knowing Diane wanted Mary kept away from Evelyn, can Frank somehow manage to retain custody of his niece? 


The first thing you’ll likely think of should you see “Gifted” is “Kramer versus Kramer”; this is forgivable, even if “Gifted” is nowhere near the quality of “Kramer versus Kramer”.  In fact, for those who’ve never seen “Kramer versus Kramer”, it may still be the case that “Gifted” will feel familiar.  Again, that’s understandable because it is touching on quite a few of the clichés we’ve come to see (if not expect) in many movies.  “Gifted” certainly does a good job of manipulating the emotions of its audience, even if it does manage to use some of the oldest tricks in the screenwriter’s handbook.

One of the ways in which “Gifted” falters is how it portrays its hero (Frank) and its villain (Evelyn).  It’s all just a little too pat and formulaic.  The hero is nothing short of perfect and its villain comes off as inhumane; it would have been so much more compelling a story if both parties had been equals in both their positive and negative attributes.  We are programmed to support the hero because the alternative is basically akin to rooting for Cruella de Vil.  Perhaps it is better off to pull for the little girl, since she’s the one who’s is at the center of this activity. 

Unfortunately, the always cute-as-a-button Jenny Slate isn’t given very much to do in terms of showing her considerable comedic talents.  Sadly, she’s underutilized, so don’t expect her to command the screen in the same way that she did in “Obvious Child”.  Chris Evans is Captain America with a pickup truck and Lindsay Duncan as Evelyn is simply two-dimensional.  “Gifted” is a fair to middling movie with nothing much remarkable to merit seeing it, while lacking anything so awful as to rank it as among the worst – but if you do choose to see it, bring the biggest box of tissues you can find because you’ll surely be using all of them.   

Metacritic Reviews

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