Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace soar in “Gifted,” a warm-hearted, albeit predictable dramedy whose powerhouse performances drastically outweigh the shortcomings of its conventional narrative.
After the passing of his sister, Frank [Chris Evans] acquires sole custody of his niece Mary, [Mckenna Grace], a child prodigy well beyond her years. Frank has every intention on making sure that, despite her heightened mental sensibilities, Mary experiences a normal childhood. However, this all changes when Evelyn [Lindsay Duncan], Frank’s formidable mother, comes into the picture with the intent of endowing Mary with a top-tier education in an academy for gifted students. With the looming threat of Evelyn’s custody battle, Frank is forced to question whether or not his ideology is in Mary’s best interest.
Trading Spider-Man for Captain America, Director Marc Webb arrives back on the indie scene with “Gifted,” a delightful dramedy with two tremendous lead performances. The film’s success is dependent on the relationship dynamic between Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace, and by god do they work well with one another.
Frank is a well-intentioned father figure who yearns for Mary to experience a childhood in which she acquires much-needed social skills. At the same time, he recognizes that placing her in a first grade classroom prohibits her range, as Mary is mentally superior in comparison to her first grade classmates. Frank’s dedication to his sister’s wishes makes for a compelling inner conflict that only the charismatic Chris Evans is able to bring to light.
Meanwhile, Mckenna Grace steals the show as the assertive and intelligent Mary. Unphased by the consequences of her actions, Mary is sometimes prone to violence against other students, mainly bullies. You can tell that underneath her hardened, know-it-all exterior, she wants what everyone around has: normalcy. Well-aware of her gift, Mary strives to achieve a well-structured balance between child prodigy and active kid, despite every obstacle thrown her way.
Without these two performances, the familiarity of “Gifted” becomes more apparent. Rob Simonsen’s score swells up throughout every emotional beat in it’s attempt to elicit tears; there’s no subtlety in how this film wants to make you feel. It’s designed to tug at the heartstrings, but at least I can tell that Marc Webb’s heart is prevalent throughout.
“Gifted” is harmlessly predictable, telegraphing its outcome from the first scene to its calculated courtroom proceedings. And for some reason, an out of place third-act antagonist angle sneaks its way in towards the film’s conclusion to minimal effect. But in the end, the performances are so charming, especially the side of additions of Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate, that you’ll follow them along their journey even if it’s an accustomed pathway.
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