Dir: Marc Webb
Starring Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate
2.5 STARS (out of 5)
At a time in the release schedule where cinemas are pretty much saturated with big box office record-grabs, it is interesting to see the odd melodrama seep through once in a while. Melodrama is sort of a dirty word these days – it’s arguably the most common genre of movie if we are to look at TV schedules (there are entire channels and networks dedicated to the stuff) – and while this may indicate that they are easy movies to produce, on the whole, they are difficult to get right. Gifted director Marc Webb is no stranger to the cinema, having brought us the likes of 500 Days of Summer – and his latest foray is more or less a straight up family drama that likely will fit in well on one of the aforementioned channels. While it plays by the numbers almost too perfectly, it never quite has its sights set above its station – which, sadly, contributes a little to its lack of punch.
Ex-philosophy lecturer and boat fixer Frank is the legal guardian of Mary, who has been growing up under his care after the suicide of his sister, the child’s biological mother. Mary’s mother was something of a mathematical genius, so it is told – and, while still a very young age, Mary too is showing signs of being exceptional with numbers. Frank isn’t so sure she should be treated with all the bells and whistles that come with nurturing a prodigious child – he just wants her to have a normal, happy childhood – however, his mother has other ideas, returning to Frank’s life to insist that Mary be taken away and tutored to seize upon her potential. From here on in, it’s an awkward, brooding battle between families as to where Mary will go – and what will ultimately become of her.
Gifted has more than a few touches of some bigger films about it in both script and execution, and it certainly lifts its head above the genre standard by throwing out a number of big questions and ideas. It’s sufficiently cutesy bordering on saccharine at worst, though it does know when to rein it in when it’s at risk of being detrimental to the plot. Chris Evans is a reliable lead, and Lindsay Duncan - while typecast once again as a stern-faced matriarch – adds genuine drama and intrigue. This is a largely close-knit cast that meshes well together and it is therefore thanks to their chemistry that some of the bigger punches the story has to offer land so swiftly.
What Gifted manages well is a sense of intrigue – while we may well have seen a story of this caliber and possibly along the same plotlines in recent history, it remains to be said that the acting talent and the pacing of the plot more than provides for genuine entertainment. You do feel involved in these characters’ lives, and the fact they feel real alongside their troubles being particularly intriguing gives the movie that little bit more gravitas than it may have achieved previously.
Where it fails to strike oil, however, is tying up – it is sadly still a rather predictable movie with more than a few well-worn tropes and touches that will likely make seasoned viewers roll their eyes – or worse, give up altogether. Webb is a seasoned director and should therefore be trusted to bring the best out of a story and of characters without fear for much in the way of fumbling. However, much of Gifted’s final throes – if not the last act – does rather dawdle along the safe path, taking away much of the earlier punches that it sets up rather well otherwise. This does rather let things down slightly, though the movie still stands as being effective at selling a few twists on the melodrama staple that may blindside a few genre savvy viewers.
Gifted is, for the most part, everything you’ll likely expect from it – with a few saving nuances and touches to raise it safely above the melodrama threshold to make much of it worthy of a watch. The cast here really does shine through a number of moments that are hokey – it is a rather odd beast in two parts, as it observes a ton of well-worn clichés while making you think at the same time.
Gifted makes a harmless antidote to some of the bigger, flashier pictures out there which are clearly angling for a fair chunk of box office money – and while we may have seen much of what is on offer here before, it does make for a well-made piece of escapism with a capable cast and enough charm and pacing to fill the runtime. Just don’t expect it to shatter anything long-standing!