Have you been feeling down about the world lately? Have you been bingeing some dark-as-hell TV shows or films? Then, friend, Gifted may be just what you need. Saccharine and formulaic, Gifted is as warm and simple as its Florida setting. While certainly watchable, it’s also certainly forgettable.
Gifted stars Chris Evans as Frank Adler, a man living in the boonies of Florida and raising his precocious niece Mary. When it’s discovered that Mary is (GASP) academically gifted, Frank must face custody battles and child services to try and hold on to Mary. It goes pretty much exactly how you’re guessing. Frank is actually one in a family of many geniuses and both his mother and sister were talented mathematicians. After Frank’s sister dies shortly after the birth of her daughter Mary, Frank (a former Ph.D. philosopher professor himself) leaves his hometown of Boston with the baby and heads to Florida to raise her like any normal child.
All the right pieces are here. Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man) is back in the saddle after some spidey disappointments but fails to break out of the mold in any way. The film itself is polished and buffed (not unlike Chris Evans’ muscles hey-oh), giving it a veneer that separates the characters from the audience. Florida scenes are full of warm tones while big, intimidating universities are drenched in cool tones. The Coloring 101 case study just detracts from how serious Gifted takes itself.
The cast is another perfect-fit piece that goes awry. Chris Evans tries his hardest to look grimy and common, rocking a beard, a tan and working as a boat repairman often covered in grease. It’s clear that Evans has thrown himself into the role and his balance of love and awkwardness in taking care of his niece feels well handled. Unfortunately at the end of the day, it’s impossible not to just see a big movie star on screen with impeccably tight shirts. Lindsay Duncan hits the stereotypical nail on the head as Mary’s grandmother/Frank’s mother, Evelyn. Predictably cold and British, she waltzes through scenes with her nose in the air on high heels and structured clothing.
Jenny Slate does what she can as Mary’s teacher/Frank’s fling Bonnie Stevenson. While jarring to see Slate in such a subdued, non-comedic role, she gives Bonnie the right mix of kindness and self awareness, particularly about sleeping with her student’s guardian. Unfortunately, she disappears for large swaths of time and quickly fades into the background. The same holds true for Octavia Spencer as the nosy neighbor. While Spencer steals every scene she’s in, her part feels tacked on to the story and ultimately adds little. Perhaps the brightest star of Gifted is McKenna Grace, who plays the crazy-smart Mary. As the star, she has quite a lot of ground to cover and she covers it with ease. Mary can be different at every turn, having mature conversations with Frank one minute and throwing a childish tantrum the next. It’s a delicate mix of adult and child characteristics that Grace seems to handle easily.
All that said, Gifted is incredibly watchable as fluff. The plot is formulaic and the dialogue predictable but it’s shot beautifully and the relationship between Frank and Mary is easy to get swept up into. Sure, it’s cheesy, but sometimes cheesy can be just what you need.