‘Gifted’ Review: Chris Evans Gives Superhero A New Meaning

Chris Evans is well-known as superhero Captain America, but he gives the phrase new meaning in a very human way as the uncle bringing up a gifted child prodigy, who deserves a much more normal upbringing than her out-sized mathematic talents will allow.

As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Gifted is its own gift to family audiences looking for something other than typical animated fare or broad comedies usually aimed at the demo.

This beautiful film from director Marc Webb (500 Days Of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man), harkens back more to the kind of films Hollywood used to make for families, you know the ones with recognizable human beings dealing with life in a way to which any age might relate. I thought of Frank Capra’s movies like A Hole In The Head while watching this, or even something like The Parent Trap or Paper Moon. 

This film, from a script by Tom Flynn, does not talk down to its audience, but instead offers a heartwarming and lovely look at the meaning of what a family really is.

Evans, out of the Captain America uniform. is Frank Adler, a regular guy living in Florida who for the past seven years has been bringing up his niece Mary (McKenna Grace) who happens to be a mathematical whiz, way beyond the other kids her age. Mary’s talents are first spotted by her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate)  when she joins the regular elementary school in town. Seeing she is a one-in-a-million scholastic find, the school’s principal offers to send her on a full boat scholarship to a more advanced place of learning, but Frank turns it down, insisting she be brought up like any other normal kid. With her cat One-eyed Fred , and their good friend Roberta (Octavia Spencer) in the less-than-tony housing area in which they live, it seems this is a loving family environment, however unusual. Mary’s mom was also a wunderkind but committed suicide when her newborn was just a few months old. The father was never in the picture. Mary’s grandmother (and Frank’s mother) Evelyn, played with steely patrician resolve by Lindsay Duncan, enters the picture when she discovers Mary is a bit of a genius. She wants to take her back to Boston and put her in an Ivy League educational environment that Frank feels will rob her of her natural childhood, but where the academically-inclined Evelyn believes she must be. It becomes a standoff between the two and winds up in court.

At its heart, and there is a lot of heart to this story, is a movie about the battle to do what is best for this 7-year-old without tearing her away from the only family life she has ever known. In the hands of newcomer Grace. she is a real charmer we come to love. What a talent find. Evans has never been better or more engaging on screen before, and it is a nice respite from what he has become known for. He’s just terrific in this role. Duncan takes a very cold and generally unlikable character and manages to make her three dimensional, while Spencer provides all the warmth you might expect. Slate is wonderful as well, as Mary’s teacher, who finds herself attracted to Uncle Frank.

Producers are Karen Lunder and Andy Cohen. Fox Searchlight releases this Friday. The year is young of course, but this may be my favorite so far.

Do you plan to see Gifted? Let us know what you think.

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