REVIEW | ‘Gifted’ tugs at the heartstrings and gets the waterworks flowing

May 6, 2017 - 3:04 PM
Mckenna Grace as Mary Adler and Chris Evans as Frank Adler in the film 'Gifted.' (Photo by Wilson Webb/Twentieth Century Fox).

After a string of Marvel blockbusters, Chris Evans has become synonymous with his role as the gallant, patriotic Captain America. In “Gifted,” however, he drops the costume and the shield, and turns a new leaf to show a softer side to him in playing a different, more down-to-earth kind of hero.

Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, the de facto guardian of his seven-year-old niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace). He took in the child under his care when she was very little, after the little girl’s mother—his sister—passed away.

They live in small house with rather modest surroundings. While their home isn’t exactly a model of suburban comfort or laudable in terms of interior design, both uncle and niece seem to be doing perfectly fine, perpetually comforted by each other’s presence.

Like her mother before her, Mary is mathematically gifted and her teacher, Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), becomes instantly aware of this fact on the first day of school. Conflict ensues when Frank refuses the school principal’s offer to help transfer Mary to a school for gifted children and the principal decides to take matters into her own hands.

A very intimidating Lindsay Duncan plays Evelyn, Frank’s mother and Mary’s grandmother, who suddenly arrives in town determined to fight for what she believes her granddaughter deserves; which is to fully realize her genius potential in a tightly monitored environment.

Frank, on the other hand, is convinced that Mary deserves a simple and normal life like all the other kids. Contrasting views lead to a sparring of values between mother and son, and a painful battle for the custody of a gifted and highly spirited seven-year-old child.

The film begs the question of what’s best for Mary, and who’s in the position to say what’s best for her or otherwise: the loving uncle who has cared for her almost all her life, or the court of justice and the rule of law.

It also digs deeper into the behavior of the main characters, such as Frank’s choice to become a down-on-his-luck boat repairman in a shoddy town despite his high educational attainment and impressive teaching credentials at a well-reputed institution; and Evelyn’s insistence on setting up a rigid academic environment for Mary despite the circumstances surrounding the death of the child’s mother.

There are no big surprises here, and the sequence of events rolls out as one would expect. The film is a dramatic contextualization of the life of a supposedly unfit guardian and his impressionable ward; and in part a courtroom drama that, like all courtroom dramas, furiously ploughs for every speckle of dirt there is.

However, there is sincerity and strength in the portrayal of the characters, and this in turn lends authenticity to a story that is both heartwarming and heartwrenching, making it more relatable to every parent, child, guardian or grandparent.

Remember how “500 Days of Summer” seemed too real in its sheer simplicity? Director Marc Webb does it again with “Gifted;” he tugs at the heartstrings and gets the waterworks flowing with light doses of melodrama siphoned through an art-imitates-life kind of screenplay written by Tom Flynn.