Director: Marc Webb
Screenwriter: Tom Flynn
Runtime: 101 mins.
Australian release date: 31 August 2017
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Pyrmont, Sydney, on 22 August 2017.
Marc Jacob’s Gifted is a story about a remarkable young girl caught in a tug-of-love custody case between her uncle and her maternal grandmother, adults who hold opposing views on how to bring up the hyper-talented child. Mother and son differ strongly in their opinions about Mary’s right to a ‘normal’ life because her mother, a mathematical genius, took her own life. Not for nothing is the film set in a small town in a modest housing complex near Tampa, Florida - it’s far from big city Boston, where Mary’s mum was raised in a hot-house environment for exceptional students.
Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) is only seven-years-old but she’s extremely forthright and rather precocious. She’s been home-schooled by her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) but now he feels that she needs to socialize with kids her own age, so he’s sending her to primary school for the first time. Her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) quickly realises that Mary is a child prodigy, which is when a child under 10 is able to match the intellect of an adult. Indeed Mary’s abilities far outweigh those of most regular grown-ups; in fact, she may be a genius. Bonnie suggests that the girl is placed in a school for gifted kids but, even though a scholarship might be available, Frank is reluctant to place her in such an environment. His only stalwart friend is his landlady, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), who adores Mary and often babysits her. So when Frank’s wealthy mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) arrives unannounced, his and Mary’s lives get turned upside-down and Tom Flynn’s heart-rending script goes into overdrive.
The performances are all very impressive and the scenes between Spencer and Evans are particularly good as they discuss Mary’s future and her mental well-being, which they believe is paramount, although ‘Captain America’ is perhaps rather too dour. His Frank seems incapable of unwinding, even when he’s enjoying Friday night beers at the local bar or playing on the beach with his young charge. Duncan is brilliant as the interfering, somewhat cold, mother and grandmother but it’s McKenna Grace who steals the show; her character’s precociousness is annoying at first but Grace cleverly persuades you that Mary is still a little kid, albeit an unusual one. Flynn’s screenplay goes to some unusual places, too, especially when you’re thinking that you’ve seen it all before. If you’re prepared to go along with something slightly off the radar, then Gifted is a pleasant surprise.