By: Arlene Allen
Gifted, a film by Marc Webb, has a deceptively simple premise – an uncle (a heartfelt performance from Chris Evans, who should really do more serious films like this) raising his young, extremely gifted niece wants her to live as normal as life as possible. After early years of homeschooling her, he decides to put Mary (Mckenna Grace) in public school. It doesn’t take long for her teacher, Mrs. Stevenson (Jenny Slate), to realize her student is beyond extraordinary.
Both teacher and school principal try to push Uncle Frank into putting Mary into a private school for gifted children, which he digs in his heels and steadfastly refuses. After one altercation too many, the principal decides to takes matters into her own hands and thus begins the complications that fuels the film’s war between Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), a mathematical prodigy herself and Boston aristocrat, and Frank, who opted out of a university lifestyle to raise his niece simply in a small Florida town.
Mind you, Evelyn had never seen her granddaughter, but all of a sudden finds everything wrong in the way Frank works, lives and raises Mary. A terrible custody trial ensues, which creates tension, moments of gut wrenching betrayal, loss, family dynamics gone wrong and ultimately a whopper of a twist ending that will leave you gasping.
The performances are all brilliant, including Octavia Spencer’s role of Roberta, Frank’s landlady and Mary’s best friend. The role is brief, but like everything Spencer touches, pure golden magic. The true scene stealer though is ten-year-old Mckenna Grace as Mary. With a long list of credits to her name already, her sense of timing is terrific, her broad range of expressions endearing and sometimes hilarious and her genuineness is a joy to behold. Whether it is standing up to a school bully, working mathematical equations or playing with her one-eyed cat Fred, she completely owns the role of Mary.
The film is certain to strike a chord amongst parents of gifted children and gifted children as well. It is a very tough decision to choose what is truly “best” for such a child. As a parent of a gifted child, I could very easily relate to Frank’s dilemma. My daughter (the gifted one) screened the movie with me and more than once said to me, “I can so relate to that.” It is a wonderful 101 minutes to spend with your child or children, powerful, emotional with a straight arrow to the heart script by Tom Flynn.
Final analysis: It wasn’t just me. As I exited the theater everyone was wiping their eyes and gushing over this different kind of heartwarming film. Scenes of betrayal, loss and separation may be too intense for young children of Mary’s age so I fully agree with the PG-13. There is some mild foul language.