Looking Back at 2010s Films: Gifted (2017)

11 Oct

67101473_10211328887897440_5701080683233935360_n.jpg

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…here’s the setup for Marc Webb’s “Gifted.” A single working-class man is raising his 7-year-old niece who is actually a child prodigy. Soon enough, her mathematical abilities catch the attention of the child’s formidable grandmother, who seeks to be sure that her brilliance is put to good use, which means she and her uncle will be separated.

Well, gee. Will the uncle fight to keep her in his custody, and will the grandmother learn the error of her ways, and more importantly, will anyone who isn’t a fan of Hallmark movies care about any of this?

The answer to that last one is definitely more important than the answers to the other ones, but they’re all the same: Yes.

I did care. Very much, actually. But why? This sounds like a cliched story with cliched characters, but everything is done…RIGHT.

For one thing, the characters are given more dimensions than you’d expect. Even the grandmother, Evelyn (played by Lindsay Duncan–just when I thought her critic character in “Birdman” was her most unlikable role), is more human than the role deserves to be. She IS a stick-in-the-mud and she feels superior to most people, but her backstory, which involves her failed attempts at raising her own daughter who was also a prodigy, lets you understand what she’s trying to do. It’s arguably unhealthy, and she’s hardly sympathetic (especially when you learn what becomes, or what could’ve become, of the granddaughter’s precious one-eyed cat), but she does turn out to be empathetic. She’s one of the more interesting characters in the film.

That’s a BIG plus for a film like this–turning your antagonist into a human being.

Chris Evans plays Frank, the guy who cares for Mary, the kid (played by McKenna Grace), and he’s great here. He’s had many opportunities to display his acting chops as Captain America, but he stretches his range even further with this role, and he’s really good at it. He’s somewhat reclusive and doesn’t make much contact with other people, but when it comes to his niece, we see the person underneath his act–his heart’s in the right place, even if he is just making things up as he goes in the ways of guardianship.

We also get a lot of supporting characters, including Mary’s teacher (Jenny Slate) who’s the first to realize maybe Mary doesn’t belong in her classroom solving simple math problems, like literally within the first few minutes of school! There’s also the next-door neighbor, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who constantly checks in Frank and Mary from time to time and forces herself into their lives. Even these characters are well-done, even if…oh gee, I wonder if Frank and the teacher are going to hook up despite her telling him they won’t?

There are a lot of courtroom scenes when the conflict could’ve been resolved a few different ways. But to be fair, the only reason it isn’t is because both Evelyn and Frank are too stubborn and loving towards Mary to back down, which does make for an interesting debate…even in a scene in which Evelyn gives a totally-full-of-sh*t speech in the courtroom about what she believes in and whatnot. (Even that, you could say, is part of the character’s desperation.)

That’s another reason “Gifted” works so well–the SCRIPT is good. Written by Tom Flynn, it’s full of sharp dialogue and warm insights, as well as moments of well-done humor. The characters feel like real people, the comedy and drama mix perfectly rather than forcibly, and as a result, I CARED.

My only major nitpick–and it really IS a nitpick–is McKenna Grace as Mary. I mean, this is a very talented young actress (she was also in “I, Tonya” and “Captain Marvel”), but for some reason, I’m not quite accepting of her as a child prodigy–I just see it as it is: a talented child actress TRYING to play smart. Funny enough, this film came out the same year as Colin Trevorrow’s “The Book of Henry,” starring another child actor, Jaeden Lieberher (“It,” “Midnight Special”), as another child genius–that film wasn’t nearly as good as this one, but I bought HIS performance as a prodigy hook-line-and-sinker more than I did Grace’s.

The film was directed by Marc Webb, who also directed one of my favorite romcoms, “500 Days of Summer.” He’s best at directing small indie flicks than he is at directing web-slinging superheroes…OK, I still like “The Amazing Spider-Man” (though, not as much as I did originally). (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” though? Yikes…) Although, there was another indie film directed by Webb that came out the same year as “Gifted,” called “The Only Living Boy in New York.” I think that one’s a dud–maybe he just needs the right material to make a good movie. (Doesn’t everybody?)

So yeah. I cared about what happened in “Gifted.” I even cared about the cat. And I’m not a cat person. That should say something. Check out “Gifted.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: