Many years ago, the “little movie” was an decently popular genre. With the kind of humble charm that Frank Capra often showed in the 30’s and 40’s, the late 80’s to early 2000’s showed the world the stories of the little guy concurring the odds. But in the current market of Hollywood Blockbusters, little movies (even with big stars) are relegated to the indie crowd. So forgotten classics like Mister Holland’s Opus or even Good Will Hunting wouldn’t stand a chance against the giants of Marvel or DC. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore such films, and that is especially the case with Gifted.
Starring Captain America himself (Chris Evans) and directed by the man behind The Amazing Spider-Man films (Marc Webb), Gifted tells the story of a different kind of superhero. A 6-year old girl named Marie (McKenna Grace) lives with her Uncle Frank (Evans) due to the passing of her mother when Marie was only an infant. Though she might be small in stature and seem like any little girl her age, Marie contains an ability far beyond any of her fellow students – she’s a Math genius. And when her school teacher (Jenny Slate) discovers this, Marie is set on a whirlwind of drama while her and Frank learn the importance of what really makes a family.
From the plot, it might seem that Gifted is not exactly an exceptional film in comparison to its future competition. In fact, many of you will likely dismiss this movie and watch it one day on Netflix. But the thing about Gifted isn’t that it changes a genre nor shakes the system with radical ideas – it just is an example of good storytelling. Every single character is enchanting, even the ones that are cookie cutter antagonists. Sure, you might have seen the twists and turns before, but does it matter when it is handled in a way that is as warm and inviting as your favorite batch of homemade cookies? Trust me, you can’t ignore good cookies!
What makes this film delicious from the get go are the performances. Chris Evans is truly in every sense of the title Capitan America – even when he isn’t in the suit. This actor (much like Jimmy Stewart) represents the imagery that people have always wanted from their all American heroes. He’s tall, rugged, handsome, charming but flawed. If there ever was a guy that could be this generation’s Harrison Ford, he’s seriously a contender – and his role in Gifted proves it. The same can be said for newcomer McKenna Grace, who has the sharp timing and sass of a 40’s leading lady, but the innocence and wide-eyed charm of 80’s child actors like Drew Barrymore. Let’s hope that movies like Gifted get Grace more roles that’ll grow with her overtime – as the possibility for her to become the new Culkin-type in Hollywood is strong.
The script by Tom Flynn paints a picture of old school film charm mixed with hard hitting feels in every corner, and Marc Webb’s typical emotional filmmaking gives it just the right punch in the feels to get the point across.
Yet unfortunate flaw that drags the story down happens within its conflict. For you see, the main issue surrounds the fact that Marie is in a custody battle for guardianship between her uncle and her grandmother, aka Frank’s mom. You’d think with this that the battle between the two would be a bit more interesting in terms of what they could dig up between the two sides – since the script seems to acknowledge aspects of Frank’s past that seem very dark and questionable. But the movie tends to let that slide, and shifts focus to a more unbelievable scenario.
There are also quite a few characters that get the short end of the stick, and seem to only exist to give big emotional speeches – specially Octavia Spencer’s role of Frank’s neighbor, who has an intimate motherly relationship with Marie. She sadly only exists to point out the flaws in the relationship of other characters, rather than being a well rounded supporting member of Marie’s personal cheerleading squad. She has some good moments, but also has the most awkward of lines – which the same can be said for the majority of the other supportive roles.
These tiny dents are not bad enough to squash such a special movie as Gifted, but they are the kind of flaws (along with its release date) that make me worry for it’s Oscar chances. With Grace’s performance, it deserves to have some time in the Awards spotlight, just like other actors such as Dakota Fanning and Anna Paquin got back in their childhood days. Is Gifted the new I Am Sam? No, but it doesn’t have to be to get Grace the respect she should be given.
By the end, what this movie has in strengths (much like the mind of our young protagonist) clearly out weighs any weakness. Featuring two leads that hold their own in every frame, Gifted holds the mantle of “little movies” past and continues their legacy. And hopefully with a post like this, a few of you will give it a shot. And with a cast and mostly delightful script like Gifted offers, it is a shot well worth it.