Directed By: Marc Webb
Written By: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes
I walked out of Gifted loudly bemoaning Chris Evans’ lack of acting skills when I heard a man behind me say something even more controversial: that Gifted suffers from a “simple plot”.
No, sweet idiot, it did not have a simple plot.
I mean, if you fell asleep for part of the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But if you were paying even a moderate amount of attention, you should know better. Superficially, Gifted is about a young man who is the sole custodian of his sister’s daughter until it becomes apparent that the little girl might be a genius and his mother sues for custody. That’s just the logline, though. The meat of the story is in the grandmother’s zeal for her daughter’s success and then her granddaughter’s promise. The story is partly a painful parable about living vicariously through one’s children and partly a nod to the long-lived, ever-changing battle women have fought for their place in STEM fields.
That said, I might be giving Tom Flynn too much credit. He makes a few stereotypically male slip ups in his storytelling: calling a strong female character “bossy”, making off-color comments about mistresses, and taking a mildly unsavory stance on consent. He also does everything that he can to make a story that is very obviously about two women and a girl instead about the one man they all share.
Of course, that one male character is a doozy. Frank Adler, played oh so stoically by Chris Evans, is hard-working, funny, intelligent, empathetic, and possesses an enviable moral compass. His character should have been left there, as the perfect single-father, but it is Chris Evans, so he’s also suave, gorgeous, and handily achieves a Love Interest. This was presumably to give the movie its PG-13 rating, which is one of the largest mistake that the movie makes.
I know it’s cute when kids swear and I get that Hollywood thinks that attractive people making out will always make them more money, but the consequential PG-13 rating was a poor trade off. Parents who probably would have otherwise brought their children to see the movie, which is an inspirational story featuring Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) a relatable little girl who is the full package: she’s a genius, a hero, and obsessed with her cat. Why the studios didn’t fight for a PG rating is completely beyond me. Kids would love her.
Chris Evans was really the only weak member of the cast: he is a beautiful human, but he struggles to emote, and a lot of his dialogue felt wooden and unnatural. Luckily, he is always acting opposite incredibly gifted performers. Mckenna Grace can cry like nobody’s business, Jenny Slate (you might recognize her as “Mona Lisa” from Parks and Rec) is surprisingly good as the first grade teacher all of us wanted, Octavia Spencer is unsurprisingly flawless, and Lindsay Duncan wrangles a supporting role so handily that she makes the entire movie about her. In a good way.
There are some weird racial undertones throughout the film. The Adler’s neighbor Roberta Taylor (Octavia Spencer) is yet another iteration of the mammy trope, which needs to be retired. Taylor criticizes Adler for hiring a black lawyer, a comment that is jarring, super racist, and was a very successful laugh line in the theater where I saw the film. Out of any other character’s mouth it would have been unacceptable, but because no one had to think about how white the screenwriter was when Spencer spoke, the joke worked. I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the line made it past a first draft. Ditto to people laughing at it.
Despite having many flaws, I still think that Gifted is worth seeing. The cinematography is beautiful, if sometimes a little self-indulgent. One scene, in which Mary climbs her uncle’s body and peppers him with questions about God, is told completely in silhouette, set against an orange sunset. It’s a beautiful film, with a magnificent cast, and a mostly empowering storyline.
And it’s not simple if you’re paying attention.
Holly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz. She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times. You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.
Have you seen ‘Gifted’? Well, what did you think?