Isn’t it interesting that former “Amazing Spider-Man” director Marc Webb is now making a movie with Marvel’s Captain America? Just a fun little bit trivia that I noticed. I was really interested in seeing both director Marc Webb and lead actor Chris Evans away from their Marvel projects. Not because I’m tired of superhero films but I think they both have a lot of talent that should stretch beyond those projects. “Gifted” is a film we have seen before. It’s a movie about a single father and his young daughter (or in this case, it’s an Uncle and his niece), it’s a movie about a gifted young child who can do things beyond her years, and it’s a movie about a custody battle over a young child. There is a laundry list of movies that fit within each of those plots. Granted I can’t think of all three of those films being rolled into one movie.
Chris Evans plays Frank, a single father raises his sister’s child, Mary. A young child that can excel in math beyond her years. Frank keeps her in a small town in Florida and at a regular public school instead of sending her to a more advanced institution. This leads to Frank’s mother entering the fray and enters a court battle trying to get custody of the child; wanting her to advance her education.
“Gifted” is a movie that could have gone in a number of different directions. It could have been a movie that is really heavy and dramatic, or a movie that is that is more lighthearted, or a movie that is sentimental and sweet. “Gifted” settles for a little bit of everything but leans heavily towards light-hearted and sentimental. “Gifted” is far from a perfect movie. The tones do clash from time to time, it’s a bit too emotional manipulative and the resolution felt too easy. However that being said, this movie is aggressively likable. The performances are all great and there are more than a few touching and emotional scenes. I came away being more forgiving of the movie’s flaws because how much I enjoyed being in the theater watching this movie.
Marc Webb returns back into the world that he seems more comfortable in. He started off his career with the Indie romantic comedy, “(500) Days of Summer” before moving into his “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that were not as well received (at least the 2nd film wasn’t). I was one of the weirdos that enjoy those films despite their very noticeable flaws. “Gifted” is a similar movie with its noticeable flaws. The movie has some tonal issues, moving between comedy and drama can make for some uneven scenes where emotion is very hard to place as a viewer that doesn’t come across as intentional. There is a scene or two that felt a bit random and was just there in order to give the audience a moment to cry over. There isn’t much of a resolution between Frank and Mary’s teacher Bonnie’s relationship. There are a few small moments where it felt like the movie was really trying way too hard to make us feel emotional. Also, the resolution was really convenient and too easy. I felt like I solved the problem in the first 20 minutes and it was exactly what I thought of in my head.
Now despite all of that, I liked just about everything else. This could have been a hard hitting drama but by design, it wasn’t. Could this have been deeper into the ethics of the situation? Sure, but I don’t think that’s the movie Marc Webb wanted to make. For what he made I like it. This movie is undeniably charming and just wonderfully heartwarming to watch. The emotional scenes (despite some feeling forced) really do work. There was more than a few where I was genuinely touched or heartbroken and really felt for the characters. I really wanted to see them succeed. The relationship between Mary and Frank was wonderfully realized on screen. Chris Evans is very good in the role and is able to make himself more emotionally vulnerable than he is in his Captain America role. The little girl, Mary, is played wonderfully by Mckenna Grace. Grace is funny, sweet, and acts like a kid. She pulls off the emotional scenes so convincingly well. Between Grace and Dafne Keen from “Logan”, we’ve already had two GREAT child actor performances in this young year. I really hope to see Grace in more challenging roles she has the talent.
The rest of the performances are well realized. Jenny Slate surprised me and Octavia Spencer by now has proven herself to be a world-class actress. This won’t be an all-time great performance but it’s a perfect small side performance that needed the caliber of a strong actress and that’s exactly what Spencer brings. Lindsay Duncan brings nuance to what would otherwise be a one-note performance.
Is this movie very safe? Yes, it is. Is this movie very sappy? Yes, it is. Is this movie overly sentimental? Yes, it is. But sometimes that okay. But what this movie lacks in dramatic complexity it makes up for in heart and emotional experience. The performances are very good and the story is sweet and charming. This is s a time where I did forgive a lot of its flaws because I had a really good experience with it. It’s a bit of a disposable little indie drama but as disposable indie dramas go, this one is certainly worth a watch.