Captain America gets his own Curly Sue as Chris Evans takes on a familial custody battle in Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb’s Gifted. Centering around a magnetic performance by child actress McKenna Grace and bolstered by the like of Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan, and the always underrated Jenny Slate among its supporting talent, Gifted may not be the most original offering you’ve ever seen – hell, you could flick on the Hallmark channel and watch a comparatively similar piece right now – but with lively scripting by relative unknown scribe Tom Flynn and captivating performances across the board, Gifted overshoots its relatively low-ambitions to land somewhere surprisingly solid.
Evans is boat mechanic Frank, Grace his seven year-old niece Mary. Living in a downscale Florida apartment, the two have established themselves an unorthodox though successful living arrangement following the tragic suicide of Mary’s genius mother during the girl’s infancy. Their world soon begins to unravel though, when Frank unrolls Mary in a local school and is quickly identified as being gifted – said diagnosis, courtesy of a meddling principal, bringing about the return of Frank’s absentee mathematician mother, Evelyn. Rooted in privilege and academia, Evelyn wastes no time in pursuing custody of her granddaughter in the name of nurturing her emerging brilliance, though the ensuing custody battle forces Frank to equally address potential of his own: namely whether he has the ability to serve as a positive influence in Mary’s life, and if that influence can benefit the growth of her brilliant mind.
As anyone fortunate enough to see Snowpiercer (somehow still unreleased in the UK) can tell you, Evans does have as much going on in the thespian department as he does for comic book action heroics, and Gifted is held high in part because of those oft-forgotten talents. His chemistry with the show-stealing Grace is instantly palpable, his scenes with the delightful Spencer touching and sincere, and they won that way largely by virtue of Flynn’s writing being so perfectly suited to Evans’ unflinching all-American charm. It’s unfortunate that Jenny Slate becomes somewhat sidelined by the narrative, though her absence is filled comfortably by the well-balanced portrayal of Frank’s almost Machiavellian mother, for whom Lindsay Duncan injects just the right amount of ice in the veins without losing the charismatic twinkle in her eye.
The weakest link to be found is doubtless director Webb, who tosses in a handful of photogenic moments here and there, but never quite knows how to frame proceedings. Flynn meanwhile, drops the ball on the scripting front as well, with his vibrant screenplay almost crashing to a halt by way of a late-in-the-game reveal that seems more convenient than it does practical or even realistic, a scripting Hail Mary concluding proceedings without any regard for it establishing it previously or even considering if it made sense to begin with. It’s an unfortunate black smudge on an otherwise surprisingly effective feature that manages to rise above its otherwise decidedly middle-of-the-road aspirations, making it not quite Gifted, but serviceably blessed instead.
Gifted is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, June 16th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.