Marc Webb's Gifted is an exceptional drama, with highlight performances by Chris Evans and McKenna Grace. Webb's direction is simple, yet effective, while Tom Flynn's script gives the performers more than enough to soar with.
The Amazing Spider-Man‘s Marc Webb returns to his indie drama roots with Gifted, a feel-good drama about a young girl with enormous educational potential, which is pulling her in all sorts of directions. Chris Evans co-stars as her guardian, giving a performance that’s honest and level-headed, while McKenna Grace steals the film with her bright smile and aware performance. Gifted may be predictable, but it’s a great story that tugs at the heart and teaches a few lessons about family and life in ways that just might surprise you.
Mary (McKenna Grace) is an exceptionally bright young student that is struggling to fit in. Her mother passed away when she was young and her father has never been in the picture, which has left her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) in charge. Frank is equally bright, but much less optimistic, after having lost his sister to a suicide that was brought on by immense pressure.
Now, Frank is doing his best to simply raise Mary in a normal environment for a child her age, which includes public schools and playing with kids her own age, despite Mary’s continuous acceleration in math.
Her mostly absent grandmother suddenly comes into the picture, in hopes of achieving her own dreams and ambitions through young Mary, despite witnessing first-hand what happens when you push too hard with her own daughter.
Meanwhile, Frank continues to fight for Mary’s chance at normality, despite questioning his own motives and beliefs on the matter.
Director Marc Webb captures Gifted through an honest and heartfelt lens that never shies away from the truth, despite the complexities that it may bring.
Initially, I wrote off Gifted as “just another” indie drama that is getting a theatrical release solely on its start power, but I’m here to tell you that the film is truly something else.
Yes, it goes in familiar directions and yes it may pull for some easy tears, but it does so while also tackling such dense material. Frank is clearly clueless at times, but is also full of pride, hatred and uncertainness as to how to raise Mary.
On one part, he’s trying to raise Mary exactly how he thought his sister would, while on the other, he’s low-key just afraid to make any big decisions, which could push Mary down a familiar path that her mother faced and gave into.
He’s both trying to protect her from the world, including her grandmother, while also living in fear himself. He once was a well-paid professor at a university, but now fixes boats as a freelancer, due to part bitterness and part hopelessness.
But Mary gives him the hope to move forward each and everyday and to appreciate the good that can sometimes come from the bad.
This all happens while Mary balances being a normal kid with also being a young genius that’s capable of so much more. She partially wants to chase these dreams, while she also doesn’t quite understand what it means to just “be a kid”.
Marc Webb bottles this complication in a way that makes for great storytelling. Chris Evans and McKenna Grace make for a tag team of performances that are rich and rewarding. Evans has mostly been doing Captain America for the last decade, but when he branches out and flexes his muscles — one must truly take note. Frank is a man of depth and turmoil and he captures that with a big smile and an uncertain eye.
While McKenna Grace‘s Mary is a fun-loving kid that’s constantly asking questions and challenging the world around her.
Webb captures their relationship perfectly throughout the film and more specifically during a few key scenes. There’s one that deals with Mary trying to comprehend faith and religion and there’s also a powerful scene where Frank is trying to explain to Mary just what being a dad/guardian truly is.
I believe that these two scenes both highlight Evans and Grace’s performances, but also Webb as a filmmaker that knows how to capture raw honesty and present it in a universal way. He achieved this previously while discovering the layers of Peter Parker within his own Amazing Spider-Man films, especially the relationship between Gwen and Peter and now he’s back working on the indie scene, capturing that same honesty and emotion, only now between an uncle and his niece.
Gifted hits those sweet spots on several occasions and then continues to drift towards the finish line, thanks to a simple, yet effective script by Tom Flynn and a slew of performances, including Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan and Octavia Spencer.
This past weekend saw the opening of both Gifted and The Fate of the Furious. One re-visits the same themes of previous films, in hopes of a larger budget being able to fill in the cracks for a voided and empty spot that was once truly about family, while the other takes the notion of family, being there for one another and continuing to question and challenge life through authentic storytelling that actually focuses on the family and their family-building.
I never expected to fully enjoy Gifted as much as I did, but that’s what happens when great filmmaking gets teamed up with solid performers and a worthwhile script.