It can be very surprising how lovely something so simple can be. "Gifted" is predictable, formulaic and deeply flawed, but the combination of perfectly calibrated performances and some honest and charming character work make the film a lovely piece of cinema, at times. The movie doesn't do anything differently than dozens of other family dramas have done, but it's executed with such heart that it's easy to ignore the problems.
Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, a man who retreated from life several years earlier after his sister committed suicide, leaving her six-month-old child, Mary (Mckenna Grace), without a guardian. Frank has been raising Mary, who is now a precocious seven-year-old exhibiting signs of mathematical genius. Frank and Mary are the best of friends and love each other deeply. Watching them together is heartwarming but, because this is a drama, we know their happiness can't last forever.
On Mary's first day of first grade, her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), sees that the girl is a genius and would be sadly under-stimulated in public school. When the principal offers Mary a full ride to a school for gifted children, Frank turns it down because he believes Mary's mother would have wanted her to live a normal life and have a childhood filled with friends and fun.
Enter Diane (Lindsay Duncan), a severe and intense woman who happens to be Frank's mother and used to be a gifted mathematician in her own right. She wants Mary to devote her life to mathematics. A serious custody battle ensues.
Young Mckenna Grace gives such an honest and heart-rending performance that she should end up as one of the most popular child actors working. Grace and Evans have such an easygoing connection that it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to buy them as family.
Jenny Slate is always such a joy to watch that even in a film more formulaic than her usual work, she elevates every moment she appears. Slate and Evans have chemistry to burn (which makes sense because they fell in love in real life), so it's very easy to get invested in the romantic aspect of the movie.
"Gifted" falls apart in the third act. There, the drama becomes manufactured and loses its truthfulness. There are some very interesting moral arguments the film began making, such as the responsibility of parents to make sure their children are living up to their potential, but the script backs away from any of the headier ideas.
Early in the movie, there's a beautiful scene of Frank and Mary in shadow, watching the sunset as the little girl climbs all over him asking about the existence of God. It's a beautiful moment and one of the best scenes of the year, so it's a shame how deeply flawed the film surrounding those few minutes ends up being. Ultimately, the film is worth watching even though it fails to be as special as the characters that populate it.
Dir. Marc Webb
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX