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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 9, 2017

Gifted Movie Review: Touching, Well Acted Film About The Fight For Custody For A Genius Child Math Prodigy

AS A BOX OFFICE star, Chris Evans does blockbuster superhero flicks like “Fantastic Four” and “Captain America”. Every now and then, he’d do straight dramas that don’t earn much at the tills but satisfies his desire to do serious work, like “Puncture” (where he played a junkie lawyer), “Before We Go” (which he himself directed) and now, “Gifted”.

He plays Frank, the guardian of her late sister’s daughter, 7-year old Mary (McKenna Grace), who’s a child prodigy in math. They live in a coastal Florida town and he wants Mary to have a balanced life in a normal environment for kids her age and also be more skilled in social interaction, so he enrolls her in a public school where she gets bored very quickly and gets violent with a bully. Her first grade school teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), easily recognizes her special skills and takes special interest in nurturing her.

At this point, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), Frank’s mother who has a different view, shows up and files for the custody of Mary who she believes should be enrolled in a special school for gifted kids.

Slowly, we learn more about Frank, his late sister who, it turns out, committed suicide due to intense pressure, and their very controlling British mom who ruthlessly meddled even with his sister’s love life.

The pros and cons in the differing views about rearing Mary are presented with much clarity in court, making it pretty compelling viewing. What is the best way for gifted children to be brought up? Should they be treated just like ordinary normal kids or should they be subjected to special treatment without regard for the other aspects of their lives that ordinary children would have? This is no “Kramer vs. Kramer”, but “Gifted” presents its issues quite meaningfully. There are no hard and fast rules or clear cut answers about it. The movie could have easily lapsed into a schmaltzy emotional drama but director Marc Webb (“Amazing Spider-man”, “500 Days of Summer”) wisely tries to avoid this. The choice not to make Mary overly cute and cloyingly precocious, but just someone who happens to be smart, is likewise very good.

Evelyn is presented not as just a scheming villain. This is clear in the scenes where Mary spends a couple of days with her grandmother in Boston and, later, when Evelyn and Frank have an honest talk about their differences like a normal mother and son. But the small twist in the ending shows she has less than honest motives in her desire to get hold of her genius granddaughter.

Chris Evans succeeds in making us forget his erstwhile superhero personas and gives a low-key and subdued performance as the caring uncle who just wants a normal life for his supernormal niece. He used to be a professor but has opted for a more low profile job as someone who repairs boats. He maybe clueless and uncertain at times but it’s clear that he just doesn’t want Mary to end up tragically like his sister. They have two memorable scenes. One is when he tries to explain to Mary his own take about God and faith. The other one is when he tells her what being a father or guardian truly is.

Evans makes a good rewarding tag team with the adorable McKenna Grace who matches him every step of the way in her first movie role, easily winning the viewer’s heart. We had our 8-year old granddaughter Jane with us when we watched this movie and she was sobbing uncontrollably at the heart-tugging scene where Frank has to leave Mary at the foster home mandated by the court for her. Jane’s tears were so honest it became contagious.

Giving great support are Jenny Slate as the teacher who becomes a love interest for Frank and Octavia Spencer as Frank and Mary’s sympathetic landlady who is sweetly involved in their lives.

Lindsay Duncan comes across with an effective portrayal of the mom who we thought is honest in her desire to help bring out Mary’s potential but whose motives, ultimately, turn out to be so selfish and this is revealed through the imperiled Fred, Mary’s one-eyed pet cat whose safety sends Frank into Rambo mode. The solution to the Navier-Stokes mathematical problem also proves to be an effective tool in the revealing climax. If you’re not familiar with that, then Google it.