Chris Evans plays a man trying to raise his 7-year-old niece, a math genius (Mckenna Grace). Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
From a distance, “Gifted” might not seem like much. It’s a combination of two kinds of movies — or rather two kinds of movie clichés — a custody-battle story and a tale about a math genius. In this case, the genius is a gifted natural, kind of like Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting,” only a lot younger.
But in its details, in its characters and their relationships, in the unfolding of its story and even in the delicacy of its filming, “Gifted” rises above cynical expectation. Far from a canned piece of work, it feels sincere and inspired. It’s not going to shake up the world, but it’s a very nice and well-made movie.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Gifted,’ with Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer. Directed by Marc Webb, from a screenplay by Tom Flynn. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material. Opens Wednesday, April 12, at several theaters.
It also signals a moment of redemption for Chris Evans, who has spent the past few years blotting out the memory that he was ever an actor by playing Captain America in an endless series of superhero movies. Here, he’s lovely, not ridiculous or arrogant, but sensitive and full of some very becoming humility. He plays a man trying to raise his 7-year-old niece.
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As the niece, Mary, Mckenna Grace is about the cutest thing on the planet. She, along with director Marc Webb and writer Tom Flynn, makes Mary interesting even before we realize her special talent. At first, all we know is that she’s smart and that Uncle Frank (Evans) seems inordinately worried about the outside world figuring that out.
Frank’s mission in life, his reason for being, is to make sure that Mary has a childhood, that she has friends, joins the Girl Scouts and someday goes to the prom. If this means not fully exploiting a God-given gift, he’s OK with that, but even then he’s not sure. Some gifts are so extraordinary they’re practically like emanations from the beyond. Is it right or wrong for a person in possession of such a gift not to commit to its special frequency?
One person with a sure answer is Frank’s mother and Mary’s grandmother (Lindsay Duncan). Once she knows that Mary has the special family gift, she insists that the little girl should live with her and that Mary’s life should be spent doing nothing but studying math and expanding her abilities.
Though there is no question in any viewer’s mind as to which parent figure is preferable, the script makes the interesting choice of giving each side its due.
By the time the movie is through, you end up caring about the fate of everybody in the movie. And not just the people — little Mary’s cat, too.