Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, is a heartfelt, heart-warming and pure in how lovely it is. At the core of this film is a wonderful little character that goes by the name of, Mary. The film is built around her and it primarily succeeds because of her – though there are some other great elements to the film. So it’s a shame that the shining light of joy that is, Mary, sometimes gets lost in the rest of the film. Now what she gets lost in is still engaging and important to the overall story, but I still couldn’t help but notice her absence sometimes. But I can get into that and much more in the fuller review, so let’s get to that.
Frank – played by Chris Evans – is the uncle to Mary – played by McKenna Grace – and he is the one who has cared for her since she was a little girl. That’s because her mother sadly passed away, leaving Mary in his care. But of course there’s a catch when it comes to Mary: she is what you would call a ‘child prodigy’. She is a mathematical genius and she is only 7 years-old. Frank wants her to live a normal life away from the unnatural world that most people like Mary will be locked into, but her grandmother, Evelyn – played by Lindsay Duncan – wants for her to be a part of that world and excel at what she is good at. What is best for Mary? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find that out.
So in a film where you have an Avenger – an actor who led some of the biggest films of the year, it is a little seven-year-old girl and her feisty attitude that controls, Gifted. McKenna Grace’s performance in this film is simply joyous and everything about her character is just so much fun to watch and be a part of. She’s smart, she’s funny, she knows exactly how she wants to be and she’s not going to let anyone stand in the way of her charging forward with her life. I found her inspiring, fun and most of all a great character to watch.
And I don’t want to take anything away from, Chris Evans and his performance, because he is just as much an integral part to the film as, McKenna Grace is. He delivers a strong performance that complements and greatly supports his counterpart, Mary. But most of all, his chemistry and his connection to both, McKenna as an actress and, Mary as a character is what stands out. The two of them are great together and you really get the sense that they have been a duo for a long time. There is a believability to their relationship – it feels genuine and it continually makes every moment of the film wonderful to watch and experience – whether you’re laughing or you’re welling up.
It also really helps that the writing of the film is on point. Writer, Tom Flynn delivers dialogue that is witty, that is smart and at times quite biting. The writing and the performances of course go hand-in-hand and the two complement one another perfectly. It would have me laughing one minute – and when I say laughing, I actually mean laughing, because unlike the “comedy” films that we’re offered these days, this film had more funny jokes to it and more reasons to want to laugh, than most big budget comedies ever do. But it also took a hold of my heart-strings and every so often tugged on them. I’m not ashamed in saying that the film got to me a few times and there were some glassy eyes every once in a while. The film made me feel – feel emotions; feel connected and overall just elicit something from me that was honest.
And I also think that the talents of director, Marc Webb shine through here. If you’ve seen his earlier film, ‘500 Days of Summer’, then you know how adept he is at showing the reality of human interaction and emotion. That film got to me and had me completely under its control by the end, and Gifted is much the same in terms of its control over me. I was invested; I cared about the people on-screen and that meant having an emotional reaction was something I wasn’t embarrassed of doing.
But there is more to this film than just connecting on an emotional level. Gifted tackles a pretty morally difficult situation and it does in a way that doesn’t treat the audience as an observer, it does it in a way that makes you feel like a participant – someone who has a say – an opinion worth contributing.
And the smart thing that the film does first is settle you into the characters and their lives. You get to know the lay of the land and begin to feel comfortable with the people you’re watching. This means that when the plot evolves and this new struggle enters into Frank and Mary’s life, you’re invested and interested to follow along and be a part of it. So Frank, Mary and her grandmother, Evelyn all felt like well-established characters that I had a good understanding of, before the man plot even got fully going. It all helps to build a base that you can work up from; to then make that connection which then makes you care.
And so then you have the two very different approaches to how Mary’s very particular gift should be handled. Should she lead a normal life in a normal school surrounded my normal children, but perhaps never reach her full potential? Or should she attend the places where her talents can be utilised to the fullest, but leading a normal life won’t be easy or perhaps possible at all?
This is tough, because there are reasons to choose either option, and the great thing about this film is that it doesn’t suggest one is superior to the other; it doesn’t unnecessarily demonise one of the options – there are no nefarious characters who only want cruel outcomes. No, instead the film approaches both options in a way that lets you; the audience come to your own conclusion. And that is good storytelling – that is good writing and that is what makes this film as engaging as it is; the ability to interact and come out the other side with your own conclusions.
However there is an issue in all this and that is that when the films focus shifts on to this part of the story, it’s actually Mary and her character that suffers (slightly), because this game of morality tennis becomes the primary focus of the film and that results in Mary not being a primary player. She’s 7 and so she can’t attend the court hearings, she can’t fight her case, the people who care for her do that, and those people happen to have opposing views. And so I felt there were times in the film where the thing that brought some of the most joy and wonderfulness to the film – Mary – was now missing, and wasn’t getting to continue to be the star of the show that she was.
Which is a difficult situation, because on one hand, I was really engaged by the conundrum of what was best for Mary and I was interested to see the outcome, but that also meant that things had to be sacrificed within the story and unfortunately that sacrifice was Mary – one of the best parts of the whole film. Now that’s not to say that she disappears completely, because she doesn’t, her very noticeable ways can still be found and enjoyed, and even though the film shifted to other things, it was still impossible to ever forget the wonder that was Mary. Still though, it did feel like an oversight to have one of your primary characters (someone who is integral to the plot) feel like she’s missing from portions of the film.
For me, in the end though, Gifted was a wonderful little film to watch; one that had me completely hooked from the beginning.
And so, I’m absolutely recommending, Gifted. I hope this film doesn’t get lost in the noise of the summer blockbuster season and that many people see it and enjoy it as much as I did. So, be one of those people and go experience/enjoy this film, please.
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