Gifted : A Film Review

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Gifted

Director, Matt Webb. Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Michael Kendall Kaplan, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, Screenwriter: Tom Flynn, Producers: Karen Lunder, Andy Cohen, Executive producers: Glen Basner, Ben Browning, Molly Allen. Production companies: FilmNation Entertainment, Grade A Entertainment, Distributor: Fox Searchlight, Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh, Production designer: Laura Fox, Costume designer: Abby O’Sullivan, Music: Rob Simonsen, Editor: Bill Pankow Cert. PG. Duration 1hr 41minutes. America.  Genre, Comedy – Drama.

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The intro Basics

This is a throughly engaging and rewarding film to watch with a very smart kid at its centre. Whether or not 10 year old Mckenna Grace is as smart as she plays is not clear as she delivers a performance brimming with belief and funny childish guile. She is not to be outdone in the acting smarts either by the very good performances from 35 year old Chris Evans playing her father Frank, Lindsey Duncan playing her Grandmother, Jenny Slate playing her school teacher Bonnie or Octavia Spencer playing next door neighbour Roberta. It is about how best it is to bring up a Gifted kid who comes from a line of Gifted kids from previous generations. She has no siblings. Frank has raised her from her being 6 months old, she is now 7 years old. McKenna Grace is a ten year old and has plenty of work already amassed and looks thoroughly at home acting.

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The central core of the film is a custody battle which itself disrupts and places huge conflicts into the mix which is of no benefit to her whatsoever. It is full of engaging funny moments as well as obstacles and pitfalls but will keep you held tight to the story as it unfolds. Such is the potential of kids to entrall and create new visions everyday.  Having many hands deciding the future for Mary is a tug of war.

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Family Genius

Genius is rare and humans equipped with advanced brainpower are as this film suggests rarer than radium. From a Director whose got has shone through with (500) Days of Summer, he is very good at telling human interest family stories.  The modern day of Florida and the sunshine state has a mix of Americas class advantages and disadvantages. Frank is an Uncle to Mary who he has brought from an orphan’s indecisive future from a family tragedy in Massachusetts and Boston to a timber chalet in a seaside village with only the basics going for it and as he likes it. The brother of Diane, Mary’s mother has passed away around seven years ago and Frank has given up an assistant Professorship at Boston University. (Philosophy) in order to recalibrate his life and become a parent away from the heat of academic elite education.

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Mary’s father is an unknown. Diane’s wealthy mother Evelyn is played by Lindsey Duncan, taking on the role, in a high maintenance coutured appearance, hiding her insecurities, one of which is never having connected with her own children. She too was another vehicle of Mathematical brilliance and also been a driver of her daughter towards the high isolated gifted brilliant existence around a world class facility of University research.  She is into a second marriage also.
Her sacrifice was to have given her skills over to child rearing and now sees the world differently as one which has short changed her as she feels in respect of her own talents. Diane never intended to have children it might be said but her nature was such she had an intensity she has not been capable of holding together while missing out of parts of normal children’s lives. These are the basic elements of this tremendously engaging story. It has twists and turns in plenty of permutations and its calculus is finely balanced and beautifully shot.

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Home

The conflict which drives the film is the right and wrongs of child rearing. Frank is not in a relationship and has no children of his own and works as a self employed boat repairer at marinas in and around the coast. It is a hand to mouth existence but it seems to pay the bills and Mary attends a state school with a bunch of kids which she says are stupid, but she warms to the talents of one or two and steers her way through school being bored as she is so far ahead of the rest and she is contented with the diversity the company brings. On a school bound bus however she gets collected and then has a barney with another kid which has her before the stern school principal (Elizabeth Marvel), Frank is offered choices and he is not sure if he is right in those he makes. Evelyn turns up from Boston standing on the porch like a Californian Lizard in big shades. On a mission she has taken it upon herself to become not only involved with Mary’s life which up to now hasn’t been one of much involvement, but as a replacement mother.

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Throughout the film Mary sees the adults own lives for what they are. Like her they need love and resasurance. Being careful not to upset people she knows is an art in the family and she picks up on mood very easily. Her interests are in the strategies of the patterns the world presents and she continually searches through mathematics and their equations the patterns as a means of access to the bigger picture. Mary asks about the big questions on faith, etc. and their next door neighbour is a coloured woman called Roberta who is a great friend to Mary. They share Saturday nights and Sunday mornings as Roberta babysits giving Frank some time to himself which usually involves continuing to work on boats. Frank has a friend in Mary’s teacher played by as she values Mary and looks out for her at school. By the time Evelyn has arrived on the scene and put down a marker the education and upbringing of Mary becomes a whole greater level of complexity setting up for a troublesome middle story.

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It not just about Mary

A favourite part which will get him a feature in the Animal Oscars is the one eyed ginger cat. One life is nearly lost as a side story itself a purposeful act, while it is the only other living creature sharing Mary and Franks home. Outdoors is what was denied Diane in her upbringing as were lots of other things revealed during a prolonged custody battle Evelyn feels is necessary to embark on, which is central to the story. These elements are not found to be plot spoilers as much is levelled in the trailing of the film over custody and it is the nature of the parenting which becomes the key as well as the superb watch it is to witness Mary’s every turn and nuance, which she does with astonishingly quick belief and accuracy as to pin the fact the script is entirely natural and believable.

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Mary is played by a confident animated, subdued, kid with vitality and energy. The appearance of playing a genius is not hard. The Director has paced the sequences for Mary allowing each portion to run without any sign of interruption or coaching by a swift editing process seeing things in the blink of an eye as they unfold. Mathematical equations chalked up speedily, shouting matches – ever kid has its moments so no spoiler there then – and sequences in the journeys in Franks pick-up are very cleverly run without any pretension or jangly loss of pace – ever. The whole lends itself to lots of comedy and laughs from the audience as the lines – especially Mary’s – gets to deliver bring warmth, recognition and wisdom in large doses.

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Performances par excellence

There are parts played by folk in minor roles which are crucially delivered with the same level of excellence as the major parts. The courtroom being a particular place of the solidity of performances to show. Some scenes are very testing and revealing while the whole system of family courts felt ludicrously public, formal and of legally heightened absurdity, its access being for a few rich who could afford the luxury of seeking justice and fair judgement. Evelyn comes into her own here in Court and placing herself as an adversary against her own son is a bit of a leap though absurdity being what it is no doubt it occurs frequently in families. Some scenes are equally important and learning is not only within the classroom as Frank recognises.

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Mary has ha a very good upbringing so far and it is this balance of having a mathematical savant to be a guardian too but recognise the things children need around them, one children, the outdoors, risk, breadth of outlook, patience, giving and receiving love and knowledge of other people views and making choices based on goodness knowing everyone is not the same and she has certain advantages which are to be nurtured carefully and no wasted of taken for granted.

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Conclusion ####4

It takes Massachusetts to state the case for Americas dream of success and failure through its institutions like Cordell and MIT Universities. Protégées and Savants, Technically brilliant minds and adulterated brilliance of a kind requiring stimuli to land the answers to mankind’s biggest questions are the millstones of grinding young people into adults of stature. This film embarks on as lesson of humility at the heart of a child’s best ingests with it contracted by failings, within her immediate family of having lost the ability to control their inherent genius. Mary is a brilliant kid of a ten years old with an settled future but is brought into a place where her very home life is contested territory as well as her burgeoning and advancing skills and aptitude for learning appear as she grows towards the important teenage years when learning takes on a routine and formulaic structure.

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Seeing this develop in a Florida seaside retreat come homeplace, is her Uncle Frank whose task it has become to be Mary’s guardian. He has abandoned his own professorial aspirations, it runs in the family and usual ends up not turning out to be all it’s cracked up to be, and is content patching up boats instead of grinding away at the academic millstone which is so strictly cadenced as brilliance itself works on the handed down work of genius, he is quite estranged from this contradiction brilliance has thrown towards him. Mary is just a kid but not like many others and it is not wise to let her become disturbed by the notion she is different as around her other kids play and develop alongside each other at more or less the same pace. Mary also doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t pester Frank to take her to see Smurfs. I doubt she would like The Mummy also.

Nobody likes a smart ass says a principle character during the well balanced beautifully paced and shiningly sunshiny script delivered like an Aristolian play with much contained within its outward ordinariness. I enjoyed this film simply because it was handled so intelligently delivering normal absurdity in contrast to worldly wisdom. The counterpoints were subtle and well paced and not overly drawn out. Performances were key and as I noted above all the ensemble are to be credited with knowing which way to go with their part. No overindulgence, no out of place characterisation but all was skilfully handled. It didn’t break new ground but held its own in telling a story which will interest many and provide certain insights. A very enjoyable, rewarding watch.

 

John Graham

14 June 2017

Belfast

 

Gifted (2017) Movie Release date in UK: 16 th June 2017

 

 

 

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