Frank Adler (Captain America Chris Evans) repairs boats in Florida while homeschooling his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). Mary is a spirited, precocious seven year old, and a maths prodigy. Due to a tragic family history, Frank wants Mary to live a normal life, away from the pressure of scholarship that led her mother to take her own life. Frank’s plan to enroll Mary in an ordinary school is jeopardised when his mother (Lindsay Duncan) turns up on his doorstep. Evelyn is adamant that her granddaughter must be given the chance to realise her potential. She and Frank enter into a custody battle which forces them to ask the question: who decides what is best for a child?
Gifted comes courtesy of director Marc Webb, formerly of the abortive Spider-Man reboots and the subversive romcom (500) Days of Summer. Thankfully, Gifted is more in line with that romcom than those terrible comic book films. It’s a snappy dramedy that handles its weighty issues with care and panache. Webb clearly has a talent for this, and it’s good to see him returning to form after his regretful foray into the superhero genre.
Tom Flynn’s script zooms along with the kind of heightened energy that has its characters speaking in snappy one-liners and deadpan putdowns. Chris Evans displays a talent for this sort of thing, delivering his quips with charisma and withering stares. The real star here, though, is Mckenna Grace. She is a jaded deadpan snarker living in little girl’s body, but she occasionally allows us a glimpse of the actual child that lies beneath. A young actor hasn’t carried a film this well since Jacob Tremblay in Room.
The lightness of tone carries through the whole film. This is more Little Miss Sunshine than Kramer vs. Kramer. Webb and Flynn dexterously deal with their potentially heavy theme of childcare with a surprising evenhandedness. Frank recognises Mary’s talent, but when faced with her being carted off to a private school he gives the convincing argument that our leaders and thinkers shouldn’t be segregated from those they are to lead and think for. Evelyn, equally convincingly, argues that those with talent need to be challenged, or they end up bored and resentful. Given Gifted’s ratio of comedy to drama, it isn’t difficult to see where this all ends up, but it is gratifying to see both sides of the argument given voice.
Gifted is funny, moving, and uplifting. It won’t change your life. It won’t win an Oscar. But in today’s trying times, and among all the bluster of the summer movie cycle, it is a welcome breath of fresh air. It is a light piece of fluff, a sweet confection that serves as a satisfying distraction from the bombast and fury of summer blockbusters.