by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 7, 2017


"Gifted" is a less-than-ordinary film about an extraordinary child. Mary (McKenna Grace) is seven years old and lives with her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans), who decides the child needs to start attending school. During the first few days, Mary precociously floors her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), by answering a series of complicated math problems. "I think your daughter might be gifted," Bonnie tells Frank, who shrugs it off because he just wants Mary to be a kid.

Cue the revelation of how Mary's mother (Frank's sister) committed suicide, which extinguished the flame of a brilliant mathematician on the verge of solving one of the seven esteemed "Millennium Problems." Cue the entrance of Frank's mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who enters the life of her granddaughter for the first time in order to mine her math gifts and continue the path she had been forging for her daughter. Cue the court case, where Frank and Evelyn battle over Mary's future behind closed doors. Cue the late second act and third act hanky-pulls, where the movie manipulates and magnifies the melodrama in order to generate cheap tears.

I never bought into it. The formula here is so phony that even a baby without taste buds would spit it out if you tried to feed it to them. "Gifted" is a movie that would feel right at home at Lifetime (which is ironic, considering the movie barely has any pulse or vitality to it). In fact, if you edited in commercial breaks, the content may have actually been improved.

But in reality, spending 100 straight minutes with these characters is agonizing. Every character feels hollow, underutilized or both. Mary is a fascinating character played with great newcomer gusto by Grace, but we spend most of the movie with the adults arguing about her best intentions without ever really considering how she feels about the situation. Jenny Slate is often delightful, but for the first half of the film she's just a vehicle for Mary's story, while in the second half she succumbs to being a token love interest for Frank. Evelyn has her redeeming moments, but mostly she's painted as the mean older lady trying to steal Mary's childhood. Frank is kind and caring, but as boring and one-dimensional as can be. Oh, and there's also Octavia Spencer as Mary and Frank's neighbor, whose talent is so wasted that you could cut her out completely from the film and it wouldn't make a lick of difference to the story at hand.

"Gifted" is directed by Marc Webb, whose "500 Days of Summer" I adored and whose two "Amazing Spider-Man" movies I skipped because life's too short. Here, he feels like a hack for hire. There is not a frame of this movie that feels interesting or inspired, except when it is interestingly bad. There's a long silhouette shot at sunset that destroys any aesthetically pleasing qualities it has with obvious ADR and a camera so shaky that it feels like the cinematographer had never worked with a tripod before (it genuinely feels like the tripod is being re-adjusted over and over again).

So, yes, the child at the center of "Gifted" is just that. But to call anything else in the film remotely remarkable is a misnomer.


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