MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Fox Searchlight
Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace. Rated PG-13
Its morning in Florida and Frank Adler (Evans) is about to send his niece Mary (Grace) to her first day in elementary school. Since the death of his sister a few years ago, Frank has served as Mary’s surrogate parent, home schooling her in his coastal bungalow and making a modest living as a nautical handyman, repairing the boats of his neighbors. Mary is precocious with an aptitude for mathematics, but now it’s time for her to mix it up with children her own age. Frank’s big-hearted neighbor and landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer) is always available to provide some motherly advice and occasional childcare, when needed.
Mary can hold her own in conversation when she banters with her uncle, but it’s a different story in the first-grade classroom. The simple addition problems bore her to tears and sarcasm. Her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) has Mary solve a few advanced multiplication equations in her head, it is clear that the girl actually belongs in a school for gifted children. The principal of the school suggests as much, but that is the last thing that Frank wants.
Frank has his reasons for keeping his niece away from a school for gifted children– and these become even clearer when Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), Mary’s wealthy grandmother, arrives in town. Mother and son have different ideas about how to raise the little girl and if this means going to court for a custody hearing, then so be it.
Gifted mashes together influences from films as diverse as Rainman, Good Will Hunting, and Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s a feel-good movie family film for ages 12 and up, but it has a smart and often funny script and appealing performances from everyone, including 10-year-old Mckenna Grace (who has been acting in television and films since she was 6!) and a monocular-visioned cat named Fred.
The one quality that is most impressive about this film is its evenhanded and kind treatment of all of the characters. Fred is selfless and kind, but he’s not perfect. Evelyn is needy and grasping, but she’s not wicked. Mary is brilliant at math, but she is still a little girl. Bonnie is a good teacher, but she can make occasional (and potentially career-ending) decisions; she has some growing up to do herself.
Gifted is the best kind of comfort food, reaching a satisfying conclusion making more than a few compromises along the way, but isn’t that how our happiest decisions are often made?
Three halos: A predictable but heartfelt and entertaining story.
Two pitchfork: Casual swearing throughout the film; one mild dark theme; one scene of drunken behavior and some implied hanky-panky.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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