PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Given that it’s a movie about a math prodigy, Gifted better add up. Happily, it does.
Gifted is a modest drama about a troubled single man, Frank Adler, played by Captain America’s Chris Evans, a boat repairman living in a coastal town in Florida who, following the sudden death of his sister, is raising his sassy six-year-old niece, Mary, a child prodigy played by Mckenna Grace, on his own and according to his late sister’s instructions.
But his child-rearing skills are being called into question because he’s being drawn into a custody battle with his mother, Evelyn, played by Lindsay Duncan, who wants to raise Mary and put her gifted mind to use.
That gift is an astounding genius at mathematics, which makes Mary a pawn in the conflict between her uncle and her maternal grandmother as they fight over her guardianship.
Meanwhile, Jenny Slate plays Mary’s first-grade teacher, who believes strongly that Mary needs more of an intellectual challenge than she is getting if her intelligence is to expand, and who becomes romantically involved with Frank; and Octavia Spenser is Frank’s neighbor and friend, who serves as somewhat of a mother figure for Mary.
What all the people in Mary’s life are struggling with, whether they know it or not, is to determine which lifestyle is the better fit for Mary.
Director Marc Webb, working from Tom Flynn’s low-key and smartly pleasing script about what’s best for a gifted child, started small-scale (500 Days of Summer), then went large-scale (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and hereby returns to effective and comfortable life-size movie making.
Gifted is a sensitive, sensible, tasteful piece, familiar and convincing but not predictable, which engages us with its characters, its dialogue,and its conflicts without raising its voice all that much and without employing a generic villain.
And, yes , it is also a tearjerker, but the heart string tugs are organic, the tears both earned and justified.
As for Evans, given some time off from superhero duty to display accessible warmth, he does splendidly with his down-to-earth role, as does the film’s real find, Mckenna Grace, who, at her tender age, can already deliver a line with the best of them.
So we’ll compute 3 stars out of 4 for an admirable custody drama that’s absorbing, amusing, and – most important — moving. In short, Gifted uplifted.