Centering your movies around parenting is always a very tricky proposition mainly because it is the most controversial thing on the planet. No one quite agrees what the perfect way to raise a child is, whether you should be Tiger Mom and force your child to study constantly and take up every possible hobby they can or if you should be more progressive and allow the child to make more decisions in its life. You will find passionate defenders of both who will say a child raised any other way is a rotten one and their kid is a perfect one. But how do you raise a child who is incredibly clever? Gifted aims to find out.
Due to the death of his sister, Frank (Chris Evans, The Avengers) has been raising his niece Mary (McKenna Grace, Designated Survivor). However what makes raising her tricky is that she is a child prodigy who is incredibly clever with mathematics. However, when he sends her to a normal elementary school, her aunt Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan, About Time) stages a court battle to try and remove custody of Mary away from Frank.
If we’re being completely honest, Gifted is a bit of a showcase for Chris Evans. Not as a great actor, he puts in a good performance but I have issues with it which I will get to later, but as someone, every woman should love. He is a loving caring father who is raising a daughter to be a proud and confident woman, has a very nice beard plus towards the end of the movie he adopts a lot of cats even though he doesn’t like them. Basically, ideal husband material. Heck, even I was fancying him a bit towards the end of the movie. I do feel that this is an intentional thing from the director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) because he really wants you to back Frank throughout what he does, and as we’ll get to, you might not.
That’s because how much you enjoy or get into this movie is down to whether you agree with what Frank does in the movie. During Gifted, he gets the chance to send Mary to a prep school with her getting the fanciest scholarship she can get. However Frank decides to turn this down, believing that Mary could become snobby and continue to make friends at the elementary school she was at would be better for her social life. This is where I fell out with the film. The idea that sending someone to a prep school will make them a snooty person is just a stupid idea, and it’s quite sad to see this movie perpetuating this idea. Plus it’s made worse because we know Mary is very frustrated in her elementary school so she would really prosper in this prep school, making Frank’s decision even more baffling.
That’s where Evelyn comes in, Frank’s mother who wants Mary to go to the prep school as she sees her as a maths genius. Now in real life, there would be a talk between Evelyn and Frank, maybe it would become heated and eventually as they are related, they might even come up with a solution that pleases the both of them. But no, Evelyn comes in, does a bit of arguing and decides that everything has to go to court. The movie is looking to be rather quick as it doesn’t want to be a lengthy film, something that I do appreciate considering some of the two and half hour duds I’ve had to sit through for this site, and so dives right into the court battle. This though feels completely unearned though by the movie as there’s no work done before it, just straight into the courts because that’s the main fire point of the movie.
And yet even though Evelyn is pretty blunt in trying to get rid of Frank’s custody, the film lacks that tension between the two. The movie really needs to feel like the two could come to blows at any minute, that while both really care about Mary, they really hate what the other is trying to do. But yet, that never really happens. The movie plays up there is very little in Frank’s life that he cares about other than Mary, but he seems oddly calm about the fact that he could be about to lose her in this court battle. I don’t think this is the fault of Evans, this is what the script calls for. But this is an error as it undersells that court battle and you never realize the consequences of what will happen because while you are told, you aren’t shown.
But the strength of Gifted is the relationship between Frank and Mary. This is where the movie excels and the major enjoyment I got out of this film. It really feels real because Evans and young actress McKenna Grace are really doing their best. They disagree a lot because they are family and that’s what they do, but it’s obvious both care for each other deeply and it’s clear that they shouldn’t be separated. So while the stuff between Evelyn and Frank doesn’t work, the stuff between Frank and Mary is what is great. It’s a real father-daughter relationship, even if they are just aunt and niece.
I can’t fault Gifted for trying to tackle the very controversial topic of parenting, especially the parenting of a prodigy where all the usual rules are thrown out of the window. But the problem is it doesn’t do a good enough job of making the side it is taking sound good, and instead makes you irritated at all the characters. The best course of action would be to sit them all in a room and bang all their heads together, but instead, the film goes for this weird negotiation which relies on cold hard fact rather than the emotion it should. A shame, as we all need more Chris Evans in our life but it still needs to be good Chris Evans rather than the ill-conceived mush we have here.