fri 12/07/2024

Gifted review - genius in the family genes | reviews, news & interviews

Gifted review - genius in the family genes

Gifted review - genius in the family genes

'Captain America' Chris Evans flexes some different muscles in an atypical family drama

'Dad, can we play quantum physics now?' Chris Evans and the gifted Mckenna Grace

There’s quite an appealing mini-genre that concerns genius, usually involving mathematics and an outsider who struggles to cope for reasons that include social adaptation (Good Will Hunting), sexuality (The Imitation Game) and mental health (A Beautiful Mind). The clever trick of Gifted is that the genius in question is too young to have any idea of the problems she may face.

The result is a family drama that in its broad strokes is like so many family dramas, as an orphan is fought over by relatives with very different ideas of what’s best for her. The added spice is that a girl as emotionally vulnerable as any other child is intellectually light-years ahead of them, and that her dilemma raises the intriguing question of how best to nurture a gifted youngster – by putting them on a pedestal, or allowing them healthy social interactions with people whose maths may not make the grade.

The drama and its themes rely on polarity

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his seven-year-old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) are leading a quiet life in a Florida coastal town, she reading impossibly complex mathematics books for fun, he no slouch himself but seemingly content to fix boats for a living, their one-eyed cat offering no end of cutesy home entertainment. All this is disrupted when he decides that it’s time for Mary to finally go to school. She resists, he insists, keen for the solitary child to make friends and learn some much-needed people skills.

Unfortunately, Mary struggles to remember Frank’s advice that “no one likes a smart ass", taunting her kindly teacher Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), as well as her fellow pupils. It doesn’t take long for Bonnie to realise Mary’s calibre and for a lauded private school to be proffered – exactly what Frank has been trying to avoid. And that’s when his own mother comes calling.

The reason for Frank wishing to keep the girl’s light under a bushel is tragic. Her mother, his sister was also a prodigy, but killed herself young; he doesn’t want to see history repeat itself. In particular, he’s been hiding the girl from her formidable grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), an Englishwoman and Cambridge graduate who was herself a talented mathematician and like the worst kind of stage parent needs her kin to achieve what she herself could not.GiftedNow that Evelyn has tracked them down, a custody battle ensues: son versus mother, uncle versus grandmother, an everday life versus an elite one, social interaction versus lonely study. Actually, when watching the film one can think of middle ways, but the drama and its themes rely on polarity.

It’s directed by Marc Webb, whose debut, the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, is far more notable than his subsequent Amazing Spider-Man movies. That first film had idiosyncrasy, bitter-sweetness and humour, all in evidence here. A scene in which Frank takes Mary, who has no memory of parental love, to observe the happy scenes in a maternity ward, in particular reminds me of the gorgeous left-field insight of the romcom.

Evans, so stiff as Captain America, gets to exercise a very dry sense of humour (and since he’s probably under Marvel contract not to lose his muscles, looks good enough to be described by one of the teachers as “the quiet, damaged, hot guy”). He also has good chemistry both with the impressive young Mckenna Grace and with old hand Duncan, who can play this sort of superior harridan in her sleep (this is slightly reminiscent of her scintillatingly chilly turn in Birdman). The mother-son relationship is actually the best in the house. “You look like a porn producer,” she tells him during one smiling but dangerous exchange.

There are a few failings that keep the film from being top of the class. It tends to be overly schematic when Octavia Spencer’s kindly neighbour is in play (Spencer with Evans, pictured above), and the romance between Frank and Bonnie is not very convincing. And like all such films, it fails to explain academia's obsession with “proofs” that mean nothing to the vast majority of the human race.


Unfortunately, Mary struggles to remember Frank’s advice that no-one likes a smart ass


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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