Frank Adler (Chris Evans) has taught 7- year old Mary (Mckenna Grace) everything he knows. So it's time for her to leave their modest small town Florida home to attend a regular school for grade 1. Frank has put measures in place for his niece to play within the rules but when her classmates receive praise for answering basic math questions she can't hold back revealing her extraordinary mathematical skills leading her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and school principal to offer a full scholarship to a school for the gifted that Frank turns down. The caring Uncle wants Mary to have a childhood unlike his sister who was focused only on math until she committed suicide when Mary was only 6 months old.
The public reveal of Mary's skills brings Franks mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) to Florida then the family to court as Evelyn battles for custody. She does not want to see her granddaughter waste her talent. Frank does not want his mother to drive Mary the same way that she did to his sister potentially leaving her with no options when she comes across a problem she is not able to solve. Bonnie seeing how the reveal played out takes Frank's side in his desire to have Mary experience a normal childhood.
Director Marc Webb leaves the big budget superhero genre having helmed the two Andrew Garfield Spiderman films to return to his comfort indie zone that saw him come to prominence with 2009's 500 Days of Summer. Webb presents an easy flowing narrative that changes direction several times featuring a cast that act true to their characters. Tom Flynn's story features a surprising amount of comedic moments vitally needed given the dry subject matter while negotiating the minefield of presenting a genius kid in a leading role skillfully avoiding the annoying child lead zone.
Chris Evans continues to take on compelling roles when he's out of his Captain America tights as Frank. He had a strong academic background working in that field back east but moved to a modest Florida community to shelter his niece while working repairing boats at the marina. Mckenna Grace is a gem as Mary ranging from happy to sad, to betrayed with equal ease. She is brilliant but mostly respectful of her elders while showing a strong sense of what's right. Her strong ability in mathematics could easily make her smug and unlikable but her willingness to embrace and explore areas where she is not as dominant like not knowing the meaning of Ad nauseam gives her performance great depth. Lindsay Duncan escapes the potential one note evil grandmother box,first when she shines on the stand at the custody hearing then later on when key information about her daughter is revealed. Look for Octavia Spencer as Roberta Taylor the superintendent of Frank's cottage community, Friday night/ Saturday morning babysitter for Mary who's weary of the consequences of letting Mary's gift gaining a foothold in the outside world.
Gifted is a warm comfortable tale of an Uncle trying to provide for his niece in the fashion he expects his sister would want. All the while he has to battle with the question is he neutering her gift to give her a normal life. The story is funnier than expected hits the structural plot chords but goes in different directions to get it out of the formulaic web. The excellent main and strong supporting cast do not make a wrong step putting the piece in the category of a film that I can recommend.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Gifted | Marc Webb | U.S.A. | 2017 | 101 Minutes.
Tags: Mathematics, Prodigy, Suicide, Guardian, Court Case, Child Custody, Foster Care, Tutors, Scholarship, Grade 1, Bullying.