This film contains a ravishing performance by a little girl not seen since Drew Barrymore in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Though it has some flaws that you will have to ignore, Director Marc Webb’s Gifted is a powerful emotional film that is impossible to resist. It functions like a cinematic spider that wraps you up in a web that will leave you frequently crying as hard as those on screen. It also has a great musical score, including Cat Stevens’ The Wind, that strengthens every scene.
It tells the tale of Frank Adler, played warmly by a bearded Chris Evans, a single man raising his niece in a small home in Florida. The child’s mother, Frank’s sister, died years earlier, and he has been trying to raise the young girl in a fashion that would have made her mother proud.
However, it turns out that Mary is a child prodigy who is full of piss and vinegar, and she finds attending the first grade at a local school to be a waste of time. Unsurprisingly, problems immediately develop when her mathematical skills demand greater attention than that provided by Uncle Frank.
Mary’s grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) surfaces and engages in a custody battle that dominates much of the film. Though the courtroom scenes may leave you divorce lawyers shaking your head a bit, they do reveal the anguish that relatives go through as they try to control personal emotion so as not to drown out good legal advice.
The strength of this fine movie centers on two provocative points. The first is the warm-hearted relationship between an uncle with a hidden past and his adorable niece. Their sincere love for each other will likely warm your heart as it did theirs.
Secondly, the entire film is dominated by the colossal performance of McKenna Grace as the young budding genius. Ms. Grace joins Dafne Keen from Logan and AnnJewel Lee Dixon from Last Word as young actresses who dominate the screen with magnificent performances. Ms. Grace is astonishing in every scene, and wait until you see her unashamed love and commitment to Fred, her one-eyed cat.
Though Oscar winner Octavia Spencer has a very small role playing Frank’s landlady in his housing project, Jenny Slate’s character as Mary’s first grade teacher becomes a bit of an embarrassing counterweight to the film. While I am not criticizing her for getting drunk with Frank and quickly having sex with him in his home, her love and dedication to Mary was profoundly compromised in the process.
Regardless, Gifted is an inspiring family love story that has few comparisons in recent years. Chris Evans makes you quickly forget his performances as Captain America in Captain America: Civil War, and he demonstrates acting skills that you would never have anticipated. This movie produces an experience that you will cherish, so don’t let it escape your attention.