‘Gifted’ is a gift for audiences, but the wrapping is imperfect

McKenna Grace in ‘Gifted’

“Being gifted needs courage” – Georg Brandes

“Very gifted people, they win and they win, and they are told that they win because they are a winner. That seems like a positive thing to tell children, but ultimately, what that means is when they lose, it must make them a loser – Joshua Waitzkin (his story is told in 1992’s Searching For Bobby Fischer)

Tom Flynn’s script for Gifted was one of those that snared a prized spot on the famed Black List in 2014.  Other scripts that made the Black List that year were Manchester by the Sea, The Founder and Money Monster.  Now director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man) has made this highly regarded screenplay into a film that does not live up to the promise that landed the script on that list.

“Frank Adler” (Chris Evans – Snowpiercer, Captain America: Civil War) is raising his niece, “Mary Adler” (McKenna Grace – Independence Day: Resurgence).  Her mother “Diane” was herself an incredibly gifted mathematician who had devoted her life to solving the Navier-Stokes math problem.  Diane took her own life when Mary was only six months of age.

Now she is seven and on her first day in a public school she amazes her teacher “Bonnie” (Jenny Slate – This Means War) with her level of advanced knowledge in math.  Well, math in particular and everything in general.  When the school’s principal learns of this, she wants Mary to transfer to an expensive and exclusive private school.  Frank can’t afford the tuition but a scholarship is made available.  He still refuses, concerned that attending a school for gifted children will deny his niece the chance to have a normal childhood.

Enter “Evelyn Adler” (Lindsay Duncan – Alice Through the Looking Glass), herself a gifted mathematician and father to Frank and Diane.  She uses her wealth to attempt to wrest control of Mary’s upbringing from Frank, so she can push her granddaughter in the same way she pushed Diane to excel in math.  Frank’s landlord “Roberta” (Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures) was against sending Mary to public school because she feared Frank could lose Mary and she doesn’t hesitate to say “I told you so.”

Jenny Slate and McKenna Grace in ‘Gifted’

A deal is made to allow Mary to move in with a foster family and attend the school for the gifted, allowing Frank to visit.  But she is devastated that he agreed to this compromise after promising she would be with him, always.  She refuses to see him when he shows up to visit.  Things come to a head when Frank discovers exactly what is going on.

Gifted began as a script that was lauded but what wound up on the screen is nowhere near as good as it was when it was still on paper.  McKenna Grace is magical, Octavia Spencer is her usual brilliant self and Jenny Slate is nearly perfect as the teacher.  But the courtroom drama isn’t dramatic, the inner and outer turmoil of Chris Evans as Frank is ordinary and the final resolution is both predictable and contrived.  In the end, Gifted may have been a great script but it is only a good movie.

[imdb id = tt4481414]

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