A big-name cast leads the way in Gifted, a melodrama with a thought-provoking tone.
McKenna Grace (Designated Survivor, Once Upon A Time) plays Mary Adler and carries the film on her own. The pint-sized actress is similar to the Fanning girls, Dakota and Elle, in her “giftedness” on the screen at such a young age. She stars in the film as the protagonist who has an exceptional talent in mathematics.
Chris Evans (The Avengers, The Nanny Diaries) is Mary’s single Uncle Frank, who struggles with how to deal with his niece’s profound gift. Frank had been homeschooling Mary, but enrolls her in the local public elementary school to start first grade. Due partially to the environment she was raised in, Mary has a strong attachment to her uncle and begs him not to make her go, but Frank tells Mary that he’s taught her “all he knows.” Despite her academic talent, Frank doesn’t plan on enrolling her in sort of special program to strengthen this talent.
Begrudgingly, Mary attends school, and her teacher immediately recognizes her mathematical ability. Frank’s British mother, who has been absent all of Mary’s life, is contacted concerning Frank’s insistence on not enrolling Mary in a gifted program at a different school to hone her ability.
This escalates into a custody battle between Frank and his mother, played by Lindsay Duncan (About Time, Birdman), which is what the remainder of the film centers on. This conflict overtakes the plot just a little too much, rather than focusing on Mary’s gift, which is the most engrossing and engaging part of the film.
Gifted’s best quality is its thought-provoking plot and philosophical tone, begging the question of what one should do if placed in the situation of raising a gifted child.
During a particularly intense courtroom scene, Frank argues that Mary should not have to live her whole life focusing on her gift, which would eventually becoming a burden for her –“My sister wanted Mary to be a kid, she wanted her to have friends and to be happy,” Frank says to the judge. Mary’s grandmother, who is also a gifted mathematician, defends her view in that because of her gift, Mary has the duty and responsibility to use her gift to share with and benefit the world.
Gifted loses its way a couple of times, namely in the unnecessary and distracting romance between Frank and Mary’s teacher (Jenny Slate, Zootopia), but overall, the heart-tugging film will give viewers something to think about. Gifted is a cute, yet surprisingly good film that will likely jump-start the young protagonist’s film career.