Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: April 12, 2017 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Marc Webb's return to his 'indie' comfort zone after The Amazing Spider-Man films is pleasing, though more predictable and maudlin than his non-linear thoroughly captivating comedy/drama (500) Days of Summer.
Gifted stars Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer and has a soap-operatic treacle quality about it that squelches some of its more thematic potential, especially concerning family. The production also includes some of those unsteady hand-held lensing techniques that has more of an off-putting effect than some may care to admit.
An audience gets to choose sides in a tale, penned by Tom Flynn with some amusing flair, that includes recognition of mathematical prowess, romance, and a bitter, divisive custody battle. Not to mention a chase to retrieve a missing cat named Fred who happens to be one-eyed and commands the interludes he appears in.
Evans gets a break from Steve Rogers in a more subtle, sensitive turn as boat repairman Uncle Frank to a winning Grace's Mary Adler, a first grader who lost her intellectually-weighted mom to suicide when she was only six-months old. Frank's guardianship led to homeschooling knowing ultimately what her mother would want for her niece who has seemed to inherited her mother's special traits. Especially in front of kind teacher Bonnie Stevenson (Slate of Zootopia and The Lego Batman Movie) who recommends her advancement to the school principal (Elizabeth Marvel).
The conflict in the film comes from Frank's British mother Evelyn (an oddly empathetic wry, if imperious Lindsay Duncan, the berating film critic in Birdman) swooping in to have the girl pursue her extraordinary qualities (like his sister) at the expense of a normal childhood experience which Frank feels is necessary for her before adolescence rears its ugly head.
Persona grata include Evans and McKenna even if the latter gets to display more of her 10-year-old 'veteran' knowledge of her craft, having had many roles on the small and large screen. Her expression when seeing the aftermath of Uncle Frank and Bonnie's relations is a keeper. While showing his knack for elucidating the minutia in this purported conflicted milieu, Webb can't muster deftly enough through the impact of the diagrammatic course, though the heartstrings are more than gently tugged and a later revelation may call into question the motivation of a character.
But, though Spencer (very good recently in Hidden Figures and less so in The Shack) as Frank's no-nonsense neighbor can come across as a tad tiresome she generally is a pleasant, maternal presence to Frank, as well as Mary with whom a little karaoke strengthens their bond. Though she may be a narrative pawn to a degree, like Slate who is more than a run-of-the-mill love interest. Nonetheless, Gifted is a present of warm currents and philosophic discussions when a hirsute Evans and his younger counterpart share the screen together needling through their insecurities with grace.