It’s not often that I get to see a Lifetime Network Movie on the big screen, yet the director of the last two The Amazing Spider Man movies and (500) Days of Summer has concocted quite the honey saccharine jelly doughnut with his latest film, Gifted. Combining the child prodigy setup of Little Man Tate with the custody battles of Kramer vs. Kramer, you have a rough idea of the heartstring tugging and cutesy schmaltz ahead of you. For the most part it works when we simply don’t care that we’re being jerked around.
Concerning a 7 year old mathematical genius named Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) living with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) who inevitably wows and raises the eyebrows of her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), the film initially begins with the child prodigy showing up her fellow adults before garnering the unwanted attention of grandma Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), a Cruella de Vil archetype that would make Walt Disney Villianesses blush. Soon the film boils down to a courtroom custody battle we’ve seen one too many times before with the, by now, usual contrivances including but not limited to saving the day by rescuing the family cat.
If I’ve made this overt melodramatic attempt at tear jerking sound a bit silly, it probably is. And yet the cast, notably Grace and Evans, act the Hell out of it and keep it just on this side of the tracks. Grace comes across as our new Dakota Fanning, but she does a well enough job selling the child looking down on her intellectually inferior adults. Evans, fresh off of Captain America, does a decent job as the average everyman working odd boat repair jobs with no health insurance but more love for his niece Mary than her grandmother ever could. Also solid is Jenny Slate as the plucky teacher who quickly picks up on Mary’s superior intellect.
One of the film’s virtues is the earnestness of the theme, suggesting that child geniuses should be able to grow up like normal kids too with friends and family as opposed to endless textbook studies and increasing alienation. It’s only when the evil grandmother Evelyn shows up and the courtroom battle begins that it starts to echo the cartoonish stereotypes I thought I’d only ever see in a film directed by Clint Eastwood. It didn’t help that this even featured a scene that could comparatively suck the melodrama dry from the father-daughter separation in Interstellar.
|MMMMM. Did someone say sammiches?|
Yes the acting is good but we’ve seen this story to death and the Disney Villain grandmother made the conflict difficult to take seriously. I’m of two minds about this one because while the performances hold this pastiche together, I was consciously aware the whole time of the movie’s attempts to elicit an emotion from me. There are movies that have a natural ability to make you laugh or cry, and then there are ones that simply try too damn hard to get something, anything, out of the viewer. Somewhere in Gifted is a decent two hours, if only those corny contrivances didn’t keep getting in the way of things.
- Andrew Kotwicki