Gifted Review – A Perfectly Balanced Film of Life, Love, Hurt and Hope

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Gifted, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, presents the story of balance, of finding the right place, of love, passion, hope, the cruelties of predestination, the mysteries of fate, the pursuit of betterment, and what to do when the worlds collide.

Directed by Marc Webb, Gifted stars Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Elizabeth Martin, and Octavia Spencer and was written by Tom Flynn.

Gifted opens as a camera pans small bungalows some with splashes of tropical colors, to match the sprouting palm trees, some grey in places that were once white, on this day Frank Adler, played by Chris Evans is knocking on the door of the bathroom, attempting to coax his niece, Mary, played by newcomer Mckenna Grace, out of the bathroom.

When she opens the door, after her personal assessment of looking like a Disney character, she begins again on the subject of school, to which, he explains the necessity of school, of advancing, of being around kids her own age.

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After Mary boards the bus to her new life, Roberta, played by Octavia Spencer, arrives, and explains if to Frank that he needs to go and get her and "if something happens to that child, I'll never forgive you. "You'll see" she says, "someone will take her away . . .from us."

Roberta is the landlord of this south Florida bungalow park. She, Frank, and Mary are somewhat of a surrogate family and with what people would consider the less than ideal living arrangements, and schools and mandatory laws Mary's happiness might be lost in rules and a power play.

Back at school Mary is in the first grade and having been home schooled until now, she is introduced to children her own age who are all developing at the appropriate level when her teacher Ms. Stevenson, played by Jenny Slate, begins on day one asking simple math problems.

Soon Mary has taken over as Ms. Stevenson, gets caught in the trap of trying to find a mathematical problem she can't solve, and Mary has her running to the calculator and explaining to everyone that she maybe a child genius.

The knowledge that a child, any child, is a prodigy is the beginning of overseers who "only want what's best." Soon, the principal, Gloria Davis, played by Elizabeth Marvel, calls Frank in for a conference suggesting that Mary's gift is so surprising that she needs to be in a gifted school where other students like herself can learn to their fullest potential.

Frank, who obviously knows Mary is a genius, explains what she needs is to be around children her own age, to learn social skills, to make friends and have play-dates. Bonnie Stevenson, Mary's teacher does a little goggle research and finds that Mary's mother was a mathematical genius that committed suicide. Frank is her brother.

Soon with Mary in public school and the state laws mandating intervention, is lack of concern over intellectual ability abuse? To Frank's surprise his mother, Evelyn, Mary's maternal grandmother, played by Lindsay Duncan arrives on the scene.

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Evelyn is British, an intellectual, married to a former professor and had two genius children, Frank and Claire, who spent her life working on one of the seven unsolvable problems of mankind. Evelyn sues Frank for custody, only after she is notified that Mary is a mathematical genius, and the court orders Frank to allow Mary to travel with her grandmother.

I really enjoyed Gifted. I think the brilliance of the film is that it has many great moments as it brings together these two very different worlds of academia, at the Nobel winning MIT mathematician level and the common intellectual level where most of us reside, and all the elements of what each of these hold dear.

Granted it is a sugary sweet-hearted film that pulls the heartstrings on every level. Do we want our brooding and emotionally hurt Frank to fall for Ms. Stevenson, Mary's teacher who is torn between his injured soul and her bright promise?

And how far is too far in family court intervention? Should a man who has no health insurance, and feels that first grade, even for a genius, is best, be penalized to the point of removing his child?

Octavia Spencer is at her usual best and gives a solid supporting performance as the landlord with heart, dispensing motherly advice to Mary and brotherly advice to Frank.

Newcomer Mckenna Grace pops on screen with her charm, natural charisma and has the ability to deliver her lines with just the right amount of emotion as needed. The script has her asking the usual questions most first graders ask and the director did very well capturing her boundless energy.

Chris Evans was able to authentically capture the emotion of a man who is suddenly caught in a battle with a more formidable force and one who is hiding many secrets. His performance hit the right points, the frustration, angry, hurt usually present when good parents are in these siutaions.

Being set in Florida, several of the scenes that really stand out are set are incomparable beauty of nature, the water, beaches, incredible sunsets which sets up direct opposition to the hallowed halls of Massachusetts Institute of Technology with its marbled rotunda and seven unanswerable questions and posies one of its own: can the two exists in unity?

Oddly as we see from the scenes at MIT, the seven unanswerable questions are, in reality, powerless over the questions that plague most of humanity: Why we often hurt those closest to us? Why do parents walk away from their children? Why do suicides happen?

Gifted is playing in select cities now and opens in theaters everywhere Friday April 14, 2017.

A beautiful film of life, Gifted is uplifting and full of love and hope. See it.


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