Gifted

 

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A by-the-numbers domestic drama about a mathematical prodigy.

 

Gifted

A beautiful mind: Mckenna Grace 

 

Gifted was a chance to show that Chris Evans could act. Previously typecast as the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films and as Captain America himself, Evans was burdened with more than the ignominy of sharing the name of a ginger-haired English DJ. Gifted was also an opportunity for Marc Webb, director of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, to prove that he’d lost none of the indie flair he exhibited on his first film, the smart and quirky (500) Days of Summer.

 

To be fair, the subject matter at the heart of Gifted does seem irresistible. Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, an economically challenged boat repairman who lives in a shack with his seven-year-old niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace), who’s rather good at arithmetic. Mary is, at various times, described as “exceptional,” “a genius” and “gifted.” However, Frank is worried about her social skills and just wants her to be “dumbed down into a decent human being.” Although the most handsome man in Florida, Frank is also unattached, sleeps on his own and, when not tending to Mary’s domestic needs, can be found at the local bar nursing a beer.

 

Luckily for both of them, their neighbour, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), loves Mary like a daughter and is happy to babysit whenever the plot demands. Roberta is given little background, but she’s a useful character, always ready with a wise word, which Octavia Spencer invariably delivers with aplomb. And the actress is no stranger to mathematical prodigies, having played one herself in this year’s Oscar-nominated, feel-good drama Hidden Figures. When Mary is finally packed off to school, she not only shames her fellow first-graders, but her maths teacher, too. And as in all films about child prodigies, this is the best bit. Unfortunately, for much of the time Mary’s vocal delivery is as incomprehensible as the mathematical formulae she is set by her superiors. Then a real talent turns up, the actress Lindsay Duncan, who plays Frank’s estranged English mother Evelyn. She believes that her granddaughter needs to pay the price for her greatness. And so a custody battle ensues which proves astonishingly dull.

 

There are narrative complications, but they merely complicate what is already a thorny scenario and just deduct from any hope of a dramatic equation. Rob Simonsen's treacly score frantically tugs at the heartstrings, but the raw data refuses to compute. Out of his tricolour Spandex, Chris Evans is agreeable enough, although his Frank Adler is not a part that stretches any talent he might have. And while the preternaturally pretty Miss Grace has a way with a smile, it’s Ms Duncan’s moral ambiguity and brittle superiority that one will remember.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel.

 

Dir Marc Webb, Pro Karen Lunder and Andy Cohen, Screenplay Tom Flynn, Ph Stuart Dryburgh, Pro Des Laura Fox, Ed Bill Pankow, Music Rob Simonsen, Costumes Abby O'Sullivan.

 

FilmNation Entertainment/Grade A Entertainment/DayDay Films-20th Century Fox.

101 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. 12A.