Gifted is backed by a talented cast (and an adorable cat) but they can’t save this formulaic schmaltzy Hallmark movie about a child genius.
Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy – his spirited young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) – in a coastal town in Florida. Frank’s plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the seven-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary.
Marc Webb has gone full circle, starting with the indie rom com 500 Days of Summer to Marvel tentpole Spider-Man then back to mid-range indie family tearjerker Gifted. Along with him is Chris Evans who’s taken a time out of the MCU to try a more serious role.
Both of them have survived the superhero machinery to take another shot at the gifted child narrative. The story peels off gradually at an engaging pace and its supported by a talented cast.
Chris Evans is convincing enough as a doting and brooding uncle here. Veteran Lindsay Duncan is a great addition to the cast and she lends gravitas to the drama the moment she walks in. Mckenna Grace holds her own next to the rest of the more experienced actors.
Unfortunately though, the talents of the cast are wasted because they’re trapped in a formulaic schmaltzy Hallmark movie.
Instead of exploring its reasonable arguments the plot turns into predictable courthouse drama reminiscent of Kramer vs. Kramer. In between you have a variety of hammy or forced moments, including waiting in a hospital for some stranger’s childbirth and watching the family celebrate. At the center we have a gifted kid whose swung around without anybody asking what she wants. Of course in the world of generic child genius movies, her mom is a depressed socially crippled savant.
The characters become plot devices. Frank fixes boats for a minimum wage despite a commendable professional background to paint poor living conditions in court. Evelyn is a one dimensional stage mom with a touch of Umbridge – very British, rich, and haughty. Of course you have the token black wise woman Roberta who can’t have a conversation with Frank without being angry or teary-eyed. Even the pet cat has to be one-eyed and eventually used later to set-up a dramatic moment.
The result is an emotionally manipulative crowdpleaser that wastes its potential.
Given a more nuanced script, Gifted would have been the enriching drama it aspires to be. Alternatively, had the story been led by Diane instead of Frank it would have been more compelling – should she suppress Mary’s gifts for a normal life she never had or let the child embrace it to surpass her own at the risk of the cost she had to bear? Against a mother whose clearly living vicariously through her, it can double as a mother-daughter drama and how our relationship with our parents shape our own parenthood.
In fairness the movie isn’t aiming for authenticity. It’s an earnest heartwarming picture content to stay within its genre conventions. However, its hard to invest in a story that hardly resembles anything genuine with its saccharine plot machinations and one-dimensional characters.
My Rating: 5/10