What To Do With A Child Who Is Gifted
Mary Adler is not like most seven-year-olds. Not only is she home schooled by her bachelor uncle, but she has a knowledge of math comparable to the leading mathmaticians in the world. In Gifted, Mary's Uncle Frank (Chris Evans) decides to supplement her experrise in equations with exposure to children her age, much to the disapproval of Mary (Mckenna Grace). She has spent almost all of her time with Frank and their landlady and neighbor, Roberta Taylor (Octavia Spencer). Frank, who provides for himself and Mary by repairing boats in Florida, became Mary's guardian at the request of his sister, Diane. She subsequently committed suicide. Even though Mary is on the way to learning math as well her mother, Frank believes his niece also needs to socialize with others her age, and enrols her in the local school. Mary's teacher, Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), takes notice of Mary's advanced skills almost immediately. Stevenson and Principal Gloria Davis (Elizabeth Marvel) advise Frank to enrol in a gifted school where she could get a free ride, but he wants to stick to his plan.
Frank's plan gets interrupted by Mary's Grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), another expert in math. She brings Mary a laptop computer and things to stimulate her granddaughter's intellect. When Evelyn learns Frank has rejected the generous offer from the gifted school, she hires a lawyer in the hope of winning custody and exposing Mary to her potential. Even before the trial, Evelyn uses a visitation right to take Mary to Boston and expose her to a math mind she knows who wants to meet the girl. Frank hires a lawyer in Greg Cullen (Glenn Plummer) who does enough to question Evelyn's motives that she offers a compromise. In the deal, Mary goes to the gifted school and lives with a foster family. Greg gets limited visitation rights. Greg agrees, but Evelyn uses the compromise to take advantage.
I like that Gifted found a way to reveal surprises in the Adler family dynamic as the adults make their case to raise Mary. Frank may quietly make a living repairing boat motors, but he had a much different life when his sister was still alive. That old life gives Frank an insight on how to keep Mary intellectually stimulated. He's a caring relative who finds time for a social life with Roberta's help. The problem I have with Gifted is story inconsistency in Tom Flynn's script. As Counselor Cullen pointed out as he questioned a witness, anybody who cared about Mary would have found her years before Evelyn's lawsuit - and that includes any academics who could have worked to enhance Mary's math skill. Frank made moves to be less conspicuous, but he didn't take Mary into hiding. Director Marc Webb, whose last films behind the camera were The Amazing Spider-Man movies, compensates by drawing out the human element, which he has displayed before in (500) Days Of Summer. Frank wants Mary to have the social/academic balance he saw Diane didn't get. Mary clearly likes the arrangement she has with Frank and Roberta, and Webb lets viewers see how that stability has been good for the girl.
The leads add to the movie's appeal. Evans does fine work as Frank, a man who accepted parenting responsibility, and is not afraid to make an unpopular decision, as Mary learns when he enrols her in school. He wants her to be like him in terms of socializing, as Frank loves to spend his Friday nights meeting ladies. In addition to his scenes with Grace, Evans also has some good scenes with Slade, whom he meets outside of school and forms a bond. Grace is a delight as Mary, a child who learns she can't always have things her way. She finds the school routine to be unstimulating, which Bonnie quickly recognizes. She also responds to things she doesn't like, as a fellow bus rider learned when Mary hit him for mistreating a classmate of hers. Duncan is solid as the domineering Evelyn, who thinks the compromise is a way to develop Mary her way, without regard to Mary's feelings. Spencer and Slate also make nice contributions in support.
Sometimes, a child will display a talent that transcends the ordinary. In order to build on that talent, others have to feed it and encourage it. Mary Adler is the third generation of her family to have an extraordinary talent with mathematical equations. The uncle who raises her recognizes that, but her grandmother decides to involve herself in Mary's life. She wants changes that the uncle worries might not be entirely in the child's best interests. Gifted may not have as good of a story as the film deserves, but it is an engaging look at a family debating what's best for a girl whose feelings don't always get the attention they deserve. Mary Adler seems destined to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. If that means she loses her childhood in the process, her uncle will not approve. He has seen what can happen, and doesn't want a repeat.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Gifted 3.5 stars. Trying to solve what's best for Mary.