The intimate, adult drama is a rarity, at least in mainstream circles; serious questions about family and the future are frequently left to the festival circus.
The 400-Word Review: Gifted
By Sean Collier
April 10, 2017
They certainly don’t usually star Avengers.
And yet, Chris Evans is emerging as something of an untraditional Avenger. The frequent Captain America stars in Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, himself coming off of a fruitless superhero dalliance in the two most recent Spider-Man vehicles.
Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is the caretaker for his precocious niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace); his sister committed suicide soon after giving birth. Like her mother, Mary is an impressive math prodigy, tackling collegiate-level problems as a first-grader; it doesn’t take much for the tot’s teacher (Jenny Slate) to notice the genius in her classroom.
She recommends a move to a school for gifted students, but Frank is reluctant; he wants to guarantee that Mary has a somewhat normal childhood, blaming his mother’s helicopter-parent intensity for his sister’s death. Unfortunately, the school contacts the overbearing grandmother in question (Lindsay Duncan), who would very much like to assert custody rights and give Mary the same treatment.
The film raises questions far more difficult than most films care to proffer: At what level does nurturing a child’s gifts make it more arduous for them to function as human beings? Does the balance beam between education and development shift with IQ or remain fixed? Without being too broad, how do we teach kids?
Of course, Gifted doesn’t quite have answers for those dilemmas, but simply asking them is to its credit. As is an incredibly strong cast; scenes between Evans and Slate, in particular, highlight how underutilized this pair is. That’s odd to say, of course, in the case of Evans — it’s not as though we don’t see much of him — but his ceiling is much higher than the digital sky of Marvel’s admittedly admirable oeuvre. And Slate remains a talent of rare grace. Octavia Spencer also shines in a supporting role, though we are far past the point at which she should be appearing in smaller parts; she is an undeniable lead.
Gifted is a bit too presentational and easygoing to qualify as a great film, but it’s certainly a good one. And half a year or so to go until Oscar season, it’s a fine time to get a taste of quiet drama before things start blowing up every Friday.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark