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Let me begin by saying that I was very excited about Gifted when I first saw the trailer. As a fan of movies about math (Good Will Hunting, Stand and Deliver, Hidden Figures) and with a cast that boasts Captain America himself, Chris Evans, and hot actress of the moment, Octavia Spencer, I had high hopes for this movie, even expecting to shed more than a few tears. Heck, this was a script that made Evans, a super hero, cry when he read it, so I had to expect to get a little verklempt. Sadly, I was ultimately left with a movie in which the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
The movie opens with a sad-eyed, visibly tired Frank Adler (played by Evans) trying to coax his niece out of her room for her first day of 1st grade. Homeschooled until now, Mary (played by the adorable Mckenna Grace) is reluctant to leave the comfort of her home. We flash quickly forward to the classroom where a bored and irritated Mary calls out her teacher, Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) for asking students remedial math questions. And, not to take such an outburst, Miss Stevenson challenges Mary to a more difficult math problem, then another, and then another after that only to learn that Mary is…well…gifted.
Believing that Mary may be better suited with a more rigorous academic environment, Miss Stevenson informs Frank who shrugs off her observations which then finds her informing the principal. With everyone else recognizing how special Mary’s intelligence is, Adler, who is a boat mechanic, is offered a full-ride for Mary to a school for gifted. Frank, knowing that his sister wanted her daughter to be with children her own age and to live a normal life, turns down the offer because his family has a history with “those schools” (cue the foreshadowing). If you feel like I’m reciting the entire movie, no fears, this is all spelled out in the trailers. It is at this point, however, that the movie derails by moving the movie to the courtroom, for a period much too long, through the introduction of Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan) as Mary’s grandmother/Frank’s mother and the antagonist.
With the new knowledge of Mary’s special abilities, Evelyn desires custody because of the possibilities of her knowledge being too important to waste. The movie does raise an interesting question: if you were blessed with a child prodigy, would you harness the power of that mind to potentially change the world (while potentially robbing the child of his/her youth) or allow your child to live the life of a child, warts and all, possibly robbing the world of one of the great minds? As great as this question is, it is the execution in the movie that fails. What starts out as a cute and funny date movie gets mired down in silly courtroom antics that have been played out too many times elsewhere and then ultimately wraps up with a satisfying, but not entirely emotionally-powerful ending.
Directed by Marc Webb (director of one of my favorite films, (500) Days of Summer), the movie struggles most with the stereotypical characterization of its cast. Spencer’s talents are completely wasted as Frank’s landlady and only friend of Mary, written to be the angry black woman in a movie with little diversity. Duncan’s role as the grandmother have her British which brings along all of the stubbornness, coldness, and uncompromising ways that Americans like to paint Britons. And Slate, who developed an off-screen relationship with Evans during filming, shares little chemistry with Evans (which may be why they are no longer together).
Gifted isn’t a terrible way to spend a few hours and I am confident that many will leave the movie with a smile, but be warned that the trailer may have ruined some of the best lines and most enjoyable parts. Oh, and if you need a bathroom break, feel free to go during one of the court scenes. I didn’t, but I am confident that I may have found the movie more enjoyable if I had.

Gifted is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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