The startlingly poignant family drama set in a costal town near Tampa, Florida, depicts the giddy heights and sombre darkness in the relationship between young, single Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his mathematically gifted niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace), whom he raises with deep affection and sensitivity following the suicide of his sister. The film succeeds in its authentic portrayal of the tender love between Mary and Frank, making itself most evident in their moments of palpably tragic pain which practically exudes from the big screen whenever the devoted duo are threatened with separation.
Indiana-born, Gotham award-winning director Marc Webb’s (500 DAY OF SUMMER, THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN) latest directorial feature is saturated with well-hackneyed, Disney-esque character archetypes that typically afflict films of this genre: the sincere, loveable Frank who strives to ensure that Mary experiences a happy, ordinary childhood despite her extraordinary abilities is starkly contrasted with his cold, single-minded mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who is fixated on ensuring that every last morsel of her granddaughter’s intelligence is maximized through intense study, regardless of any possible detriment on the youthful blitheness of Mary’s childhood.
Mary’s guileless pre-school teacher, Ms Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), is the first person outside of the Adler’s immediate family who becomes aware of the child’s startling intellectual abilities, after firing a series of mathematical problems at her in an embarrassingly predictable, slightly squirm-inducing scene – a relationship which is complicated by Bonnie’s romantic involvement with Frank. Frank’s landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer) embodies the inerudite yet supportive maternal figure who – in her own, unpolished way – adopts a mentor-like, tough-love approach toward Frank and his upbringing of Mary.
Yet, Gifted was released to not only stellar commercial success (raking in a staggering $24 million at the box office in the US alone) but also significant adoration on the film festival circuit, earning the Truly Moving Picture Award at the Indianapolis-based Heartland Film Festival this year. The film’s success can be accounted for by the fact that its character predictability which initially threatens to tire the audience with its triteness, is deftly balanced out with its transfixing acting, well-crafted writing (by screenwriter Tom Flynn) and understated yet penetrating cinematography (by English-born New Zealander Stuart Dryburgh). Ultimately, all these crucial elements fuse together to form a well-crafted drama that is significantly more shrewd and well-executed than its counterparts.