This movie was the blessing that I didn’t even know I needed during a tiring period. Frank Adler (Chris Evans), uncle to a young genius, Mary (Mckenna Grace), tries his best to give his gifted niece the normal childhood that her mother, his sister, never had under the care of his ambitious mother, Evelyn. While the various trailers and clips depicted an adorable relationship between uncle and niece, I did not expect the emotional depths we sank to as we explored the question of if what we perceive as a child’s needs is what’s best for them.
I thought that Mckenna Grace gave a really feisty performance as little genius Mary. Her expressive face conveyed the honest demeanor that most kids have at that age, and her character tells principals off, put kids in their place and sasses her uncle with no fear. She was the life and heart of the film; were it a different child actor, we might not have felt the need to sympathise with this little mismatched family as much when they run into problems.
It was really interesting how throughout the film, they juxtaposed her childlike handwriting with the increasingly complex mathematical problems they had her solve. The contrast constantly reminds the audience of her startling young age and the growing adult expectations placed upon her by the professors and tutors her grandmother parades in front of her. It was a simple motif that one might not think about during the film but might hit you after with a shock.
I half wish Chris Evans’ Marvel contract would end soon so he could make films like this outside the franchise full-time (sorry Marvel fam). Having seen him in previous films such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Before We Go (2015), I was excited for the new dimensions of Evans that we would get to see. HIs performance in here evoked memories of the emotional Before We Go but elevated his portfolio far above the Marvel scale. His chemistry with his co-star Grace was obvious and drew the audience into the family drama brewing.
We are all used to All-American Boy, Steve Rogers, but his character in Gifted screws up pretty often, helping Evans break out even further of the clean image many have gotten used to. His character knows raising Mary is hard but he tries his best anyway, and apologises when he gets it wrong. The film featured an honest and rare sequence, in which Evans’ character comes back to apologise to Mary after yelling at her in anger. He alleviates common childhood fears and self-blame, explaining that he was angry at himself and took it out on an easy target. It was a heartfelt depiction of what adults sometimes forget to do: remind the children that it’s not their fault. This is the beauty of this film, it’s so simple yet so complex at the same time, and it makes us stop and think, hey, this could potentially mean something more.
Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate also turned in sincere supporting performances as well, as Mary’s neighbour, Roberta, and teacher, Bonnie, respectively, and Marc Webb balanced their screen time nicely with the main leads, allowing them to step back when they’re not required. The focus stays mainly with our two emotional co-stars, allowing us time to connect and engage with their characters.
Question of the day, what constitutes a family? This is an increasingly common question in a global environment of a heightened awareness of LGBT+ issues, single parenthood and adoption. Mary’s family is made up of her uncle, Frank, and her neighbour, Roberta (Spencer), who takes care of her on Fridays to allow Frank some time for himself. And who’s to say that this family would be lesser than any other? The difference between this loving and fun family in Florida – shown with warm tones and filters – and Evelyn’s lonely townhouse in Massachusetts – coloured with cool tones – was depicted not only thematically, but visually as well. Frank’s struggle to provide for Mary while working freelance boat repairs is a another real issue reflected today. In this flagging economy, many people in society try their best to do right by their family, and who are we, as external parties, to say that that’s not enough?
Gifted is a heartwarming flick that gives us reprieve from the blockbuster films that have become increasingly common in recent times. While predictable in some ways, the film’s emotiveness and genuinely funny portions are able to engage the audience for a good time. These are the films that we need in a period of time where we feel that the world may have gone to shit and Marc Webb gives us a film that is a shining light of happiness amongst the darkness.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Things to consider:
Warning: spoilers ahead of this point
- Was the compromise even legal or plausible? Having Mary in a foster home they both deemed suitable while having her go to a prestigious school seemed a little too skewed to what Evelyn wanted instead of what Frank wanted. We all knew that Mary had a hand in this. Also, did the foster parents take her money or – ? Something’s really fishy.
- Assuming that the film is set in 2017 and Mary is 7, it means Diane died at 22 in 2010. Which would make her 12 when the Millenium Problems were postulated. Can you imagine solving the same mathematical problem since your teenage years? It would drive anybody insane.
- Mary was wearing a Girls’ Scouts jacket in the ending scene! So she gets to do both college level courses and interact with children her age on the playground. My excitement for this child is off the charts. Do me proud, young’un.
Favourite scene: That beautifully lit scene in which Mary is questioning Frank about the existence of God, which is a terribly human and childlike thing to ask. It is a stark reminder of her young age, where in the immediate scene prior, she’s solving complex mathematical solutions and reading books thicker than anything I would have read at 10, much less 7.
Is there a god? I don’t know. Just tell me. Would, if I could. But I don’t know, neither does anybody else. Roberta knows. No, Roberta has faith. That’s a great thing to have. But faith’s about what you think, feel. Not what you know. What about Jesus? Love that guy, do what he says. Tell you what though, one way or another we all end up back together in the end. That’s why you’re asking right? Yep.
Frank’s explanation of God’s existence and the difference between knowledge and faith was so simple and basic, which is exactly what Mary needed at the moment. It’s not until halfway through the movie that we learn Frank was previously a Professor of Philosophy in Boston University, which means that he, in full awareness of her intelligence, could have approached this question in a whole different way. But by explaining it in simple terms, he assuaged her young curiosity and cut through to the heart of her simple question. And in doing so, proved why he would be able to give her a fulfilling life as compared to Evelyn, who might have pointed her to a mathematical formula disproving God (does it exist?).
What I had wanted to see: Why would you not show us Mary’s reaction to coming home and finding three cats instead of just Fred? I’m sure she would have been ecstatic. Also, scenes of Chris Evans being a Professor of Philosophy. As an English major, I demand this.
Random fact: This is Octavia Spencer and Chris Evans’ second movie together, the first being Snowpiercer (2013). Spencer too, played a motherly character full of steel and protectiveness over the young children.
Comments and discussions are welcomed by the writer.