Gifted is one of two films director Marc Webb has out this year. After his work on Amazing Spider-man and Amazing Spider-man 2, it seems Webb is returning to the subject matter that brought him stardom back in 2009 with (500) Days of Summer: quirky human-focused dramas, with liberal doses of humour.
True to that formula, Gifted tells the story of boat mechanic Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). It’s Mary that the title refers to. She’s only 7, but she cuts through complex maths problems like a flaming laser sword through butter.
Her abilities lead to turmoil, however, when her mathematician grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) tries to gain custody of her. The result is a lengthy courtroom drama.
It’s fairly typical stuff. Many films have covered similar territory (see Kramer vs Kramer, Good Will Hunting, etc) and Gifted doesn’t really throw any curve-balls with it’s story. The film only avoids cliche because Webb is too smart of a director. He takes a subtle approach to the drama, which makes it feel real, if not novel.
It also helps that the performances are remarkably sturdy. Evans puts in a solid turn as Mary’s de facto guardian Frank, and Jenna Slate is charming as Mary’s first grade teacher. Octavia Spencer also brings a fleshed out performance to what would otherwise be a bit part as the Adlers’ neighbour Roberta. It’s the kind of role one could imagine her getting an Oscar nod for had it been expanded, but (in one of Webb’s few directorial missteps) Spencer receives criminally little screen time
But the show is indisputably stolen by 11-year-old Mckenna Grace. Her Mary is quirky, funny, heartbreaking and — most importantly — brave. She might be my favourite film character of the year so far.
All of this adds up to a solid return to what Webb does best. Gifted won’t blow your mind, or deliver anything super original, but if you’re looking for a bit of cinematic sunshine — or if you’re a fan of monocular cats — you can’t go wrong.