"Gifted" Review

Title: Gifted
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Genre(s): Drama
Rated: PG-13 (For thematic elements, language and some suggestive material)


“Gifted” is the kind of movie that comes packaged with a great gift inside that you toss aside because your expectations for it weren’t met.  I’m not sure whether or not that makes it the gifts fault for not living up to the self-inflicted hype or mine for having it in the first place, but I watched this movie, chewed it up, and swallowed it in a way that suggested the meal was tasty but not digestible.  Maybe at some point in this review I will come up with a metaphor that works in a way that is supposed to, but if I do we may find that it has come too late.  For Marc Webb’s “Gifted” is a movie with at least two promising ideas that never pay off in a way that was never satisfying to me, and I felt there was a more challenging screenplay buried somewhere in all of this.  One of these days I’d like to see that movie, but for now this one will likely suffice for many. 

Not that it shouldn’t, if we’re being honest.  It tells a genuine (if not misguided) story of an uncle who decides to send his niece to public school.  He is the primary caregiver after his sister committed suicide, and he wants her to live a normal live and go to a regular school and make friends.  The thing is Mary (Mckenna Grace) is secretly a genius mathematician who finds school to be boring and appears to have developed a sarcastic sense of humor that would make Sarah Silverman proud.  She doesn’t connect with her peers very well, but Frank (Chris Evans) insists that this is where she belongs.  The problem is the school eventually discovers she has a gift and doesn’t want to see that gift wasted.  Before long there is a court battle between Frank and his mother (Lindsay Duncan), who has re-entered his life upon hearing her granddaughter is a secret genius.

She tells Frank “didn’t I raise you to know not to piss off someone stupid who has an increment of power?”  I quote this line with great fascination, because it was as if it was snuck into the screenplay to tell the audience that they knew there was a more interesting conflict in all of this beyond who got parental custody of Mary.  There is a bigger question of who gets to decide what is best for a child when there is something to be gained from them.  If Mary wasn’t intelligent there is a real possibility no court case would be needed.  The grandmother would not re-enter their lives because she has a second chance to live out her own lifelong dreams through the grandchild (she tried with her daughter but, obviously, that didn’t work out very well).  There is the question of when a school oversteps their boundaries.  The events get set into motion simply because Frank doesn’t want to send Mary to a special school.

He wants her to grow up as a normal kid.  These are good questions to address.  While the movie does go to a court room, it comes down making the grandmother looking ruthless without asking the tough question of why they are all there in the first place?  For that matter, why does Frank have to develop a relationship with his niece’s attractive teacher when Octavia Spencer is his neighbor, and she seems like she has a great personality?  Wouldn’t it be more interesting for a relationship to develop between two people who talk to each other and appear to have things common?  Never mind.  “Gifted” is ultimately trying too hard to be the gift that movie goers are expecting to get rather than what they would really like.  To go back to the present analogy, sometimes we get gifts we ask for, but toss them aside a week later.  Sometimes we get gifts that we don’t ask for, but we find out we didn’t know we wanted them.  I think this movie reflects the first gift (just in movie form).


Parents, there is the obligatory use of the f word and brief sex scene to make an otherwise perfectly fine family movie unsuitable for family viewing.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.