This week’s film of the week is director Marc Webb’s fantastic drama Gifted. Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, the guardian of his 7-year-old mathematically gifted niece Mary. In a bid to allow her an ordinary life, he stops home schooling her and enrols her into a local primary school. Mary’s knack for numbers is quickly noticed by her teacher Bonnie, and Frank is strongly advised to apply for a gifted scholarship by the school’s head teacher. When he firmly refuses, the news reaches his estranged mother and it soon becomes clear that she’s determined to have Mary’s talent recognised regardless of the consequences, putting Frank and Mary’s relationship in serious jeopardy.
There aren’t any camera tricks or other inessentials in this film, just good solid acting. There’s beauty in its simplicity. Everything flows so naturally, especially the characters’ lines. Tom Flynn’s screenplay has barely, if at all any remnants of a Hollywood cookie cutter storyline. It’s realistic enough to seem believable, funny enough to keep you engaged but sad enough to keep you on your toes. It feels like real life but with better dialogue, predominantly Frank and Mary’s, which for the most part ends in a brilliantly written quip. She may barely reach her Uncle’s hip but that doesn’t stop 7-year-old Mary having a wit more sophisticated than most. While the word ‘spunk’ makes me cringe beyond belief, that’s exactly what she has, as well as more cojones than you and I put together.
Jenny Slate plays Bonnie, Mary’s teacher. Her teacher voice is half an octave higher than her normal voice. Listening to it drop when she talks to her peers is hilarious. McKenna Grace who plays Mary, is an absolute gem. At only 10-years-old, her acting ability is astonishing. Her chemistry with Chris Evans is brilliant and his outstanding acting makes it hard to believe we’re watching a film and not some parallel Universe where he is actually the guardian of this 7-year-old genius.
I’m still questioning the necessity of Octavia Spencer’s character, Roberta. She’s Frank’s landlord and Mary’s only friend. She clearly loves Mary but aside from expressing this continuously, it’s hard to understand what her purpose is. She adds an imbalance to the film. Her character almost feels incomplete. If Roberta didn’t exist, the film would have the exact same effect. It’s a shame as Octavia is so talented. Her hairstylist on the other hand is not. Why on earth is Octavia’s hair so unkempt throughout the whole film? I know it’s humid as hell in Florida but give the woman a brush.
While we’re on the topic of flaws, the loud, happy music occasionally forces that feel-good vibe on us. It’s completely futile because Webb’s charming visuals do that for us. It’s set in Florida where Frank makes his living fixing boats and so Webb films some stunning shots of Frank and Mary on the beach while the Florida sun sets behind them. These moments between Frank and Mary are the film’s best. She uses him like a climbing frame, pulling on all his limbs to climb up onto his shoulders. It’s all so nostalgic, aside from the fact that she’s ten times smarter than I’ll ever be.