Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Gifted – a film that survives a custody battle and is rescued by its toothy child genius

Gifted tells the story of a smart child called Mary whose uncle/guardian becomes locked in a bitter custody battle with his mother. Frank (played by Chris Evans) took on the role after his sister ended her life. Along with their one-eyed cat Fred – who is enough of a character to warrant a name – they move away from academic life in Boston and live simply in Florida.

Now old enough to enrol in first grade at the local school, it is clear that Mary is the latest in a line of mathematical talent running through the family. Frank is trying to do the best for his young niece, getting it wrong one step at a time like most parents. But his legacy-obsessed mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) – whose own numerical career was prematurely stunted through marriage and motherhood – upsets his finely balanced parenting equation.
“Never get on the bad side of small minded people who have a little power.”

The film veers away from becoming overbearingly sentimental while still throwing in a few tear-jerking moments. The plot’s credibility that is built up over the first hour is wilfully discarded in the final stages which require far too much rescuing due to a decision we’ve come to believe Frank wouldn’t make.

Weaknesses can also be found in the finer details. Why does a seven year old girl living with her unfashionable uncle have bleached hair? There are signposts towards competing attraction to Frank from Roberta (Octavia Spencer, who lives next door and cares for Mary each weekend) and the first grade teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate). Yet this smoking gun of a plot line is never developed. The courtroom arguments don’t quite add up and the film’s fulcrum is hard to believe.

The film gently raises questions about the nurturing and education of gifted children that will rattle around the minds of parents as they sit in the cinema. But it’s not a profound piece of drama.

Evil maternal grandmother. Slightly hapless male parent. Arguing lawyers. A dodgy judge. Lying foster parents. You could nearly write the script … except this predictable film is rescued by Mckenna Grace’s joyous delivery of her witty lines. The central parent/child relationship is convincing and their banter heartwarming.

Gifted is being screened in Movie House Cinemas from Friday 16th. Thereafter it will become great family viewing when everyone’s stuck in the house at Christmas.

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