Man, these number movies these days are really inspiring and smart. “The Wolf of Wall Street” spent our money on cocaine and sex; “The Accountant” managed to combine Autism, math, and criminals very well; and “Hidden Figures” deserved to be Oscar-nominated for its portrayal of three female African American mathematicians helping NASA send a man in space. Now, we have “Gifted,” which isn’t all about numbers, but is about a little girl, whose potential may be held back based on her right potential to live life as a kid. It has emotions, drama, humor, and smart-ass dialogue, the kind you’d like to see every now and then.
Chris Evans stars as Frank Adler, a former BU teaching assistant-now-turned Florida boat handyman, who raises his niece Mary (McKenna Grace), after the death of his sister-a would-be mathematician. He can’t homeschool her anymore, and must send her to a real grade school, where her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate, Evan’s real-life girlfriend) is impressed by her math skills. The principal (Elizabeth Marvel) suggests Mary go to gifted school, but Frank knows his sister would want her to have a better, normal life than she had.
His British mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) arrives from Boston, and meets Mary for the first time. “First time,” because she turned her back on her own daughter the minute she knew she was pregnant. She threw her career down the drain, and now, she wants custody of Mary, so she can have the career her daughter never had. And so, Frank and Evelyn go to court.
“Gifted” was directed by Marc Webb, in his first non-blockbuster movie since “(500) Days of Summer,” and he does a fabulous job at bringing together some fresh writing from Tom Flynn, and a cast, who don’t appear because their star-billing told them to. They actually play characters. Evans probably gives his best non-superhero performance since “Snowpiercer” as a modest uncle wanting his niece to be treated as a normal kid, and not different. Slate also adds a sweet touch as the teacher, who becomes good friends with Frank. All I’ve seen Grace in was her empty role in “Independence Day: Resurgence,” but in “Gifted,” she does a fabulous job of playing a little girl with a gift and a smart-ass attitude. If you loved Duncan’s theater critic role in “Birdman,” then you’ll love her in this. And you also receive support from Octavia Spencer as Frank’s well-meaning neighbor, and Glenn Plummer as his lawyer.
This is the kind of movie made for mothers, who admire stories about gifted children, and who watch shows like “Parenthood” or “This is Us.” My mother is one of those people, and she would eat this movie up with a spoon. I did, too.