Frank Adler (Chris Evans) has taught his 7-year-old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) everything he knows. So it’s time for her to leave their modest Florida home to attend Grade 1 a regular school. Frank has put measures in place for his niece to play within the rules and keep her gifts secret. However, when her classmates receive praise for answering basic math questions, she cannot hold back revealing her extraordinary mathematical skills. This revelation leads her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and the school to offer Mary a full scholarship to an institution for the gifted.
Fearing that Mary might end up like her mother, who was obsession with math and eventually until she committed suicide a year earlier, the caring uncle rejects the offer as he wants Mary to have a normal childhood. The public reveal of Mary’s mathematical brilliance brings Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), to Florida, and sends the family into a legal spiral as a custody battle ensues.
Director Marc Webb leaves the big budget superhero genre behind, having helmed the two Andrew Garfield Spider-man films, and returns to the type of indie storytelling that brought him prominence with 2009’s 500 Days of Summer. Webb presents an easy flowing narrative, one that changes direction several times, and a cast of characters that feel like genuine people. Tom Flynn’s script features a surprising amount of comedic moments, especially when you consider how serious the subject matter is, while simultaneously navigating the minefield of presenting a genius kid in a way that does not make her annoying.
Chris Evans continues to take on compelling roles when he’s out of his Captain America tights. As Frank, he conveys both intellect and an everyman sensibility. Mckenna Grace is a gem as Mary, bringing a range of emotions to the role. Mary’s strong ability in mathematics could have easily made her smug and unlikable, but Grace’s charm and depth allows the character’s willingness explore areas new things shine through. Lindsay Duncan escapes the potentially one-note evil grandmother role by bring added complexity to the part. This is first noticeable in her strong work during the scene when Evelyn is on the stand at the custody hearing, and then later on when key information about her daughter is revealed.
Gifted is a warm tale of an uncle trying to provide for his niece in the fashion he expects his sister would have wanted. The excellent work by the cast, the touching plot and moments of humour make Gifted a film that I can recommend.