Gifted, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Gifted is a heartwarming, if somewhat formulaic movie, that follows the story of a spirited young math prodigy Mary (McKenna Grace) and her hunky slacker uncle turned-father-figure Frank (Chris Evans). Frank stepped in as Mary’s guardian when his sister, Mary’s mom, committed suicide. They were eking out their somewhat unconventional life in a beachside town and happily living under the radar, until Frank decides it is time for Mary to start school.

It is at school where her precociousness is noticed by the school administration and trouble soon follows. The school administration contacts grandmother Evelyn (played by Lindsay Duncan) who shows up to start the debate about what is best for Mary. Where and how should she live? How should she spend her time? Who should be her legal guardian? Evelyn would have Mary study exclusively and channel all her energy into leveraging her unique superpower. Frank, worried that Mary will follow a similar path as his sister if she isn’t given a chance to develop friendships and have a “normal” life, insists no changes are required. A legal case unfolds when Evelyn takes Frank to court to settle their difference of opinion.

As a prodigy, Mary doesn’t need to learn anything academic. Instead, she needs to learn how to make friends with kids her own age and develop social skills so she can eventually live a “normal” life. As Frank notes, when kids are taught at an early age that they can’t have friendships with kids who are poorer or less bright than them, “that’s how you get senators.”

The casting and sound bites in this script are truly first rate, from the biting one-liners delivered stoically by Evelyn to the raw tenacity and love that oozes from protective neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer), to the somewhat saccharine but probing teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate). While there are bright spots throughout the film, the movie overall is about 99 percent predictable. That said, I still found it compelling (and based on the laughter and tears I overheard in the packed theatre, I clearly wasn’t the only one).

The storyline touched on so many important themes. How do you know what is in the best interests of someone else, namely a child? What is faith? The movie tells us, “Faith is about what you think and feel, not about what you know.” It also brings up the importance of balance, reminding viewers to “Use your head and have faith.”

My favourite parts of the movie were when Frank interacts with Mary or talks about his relationship with her to others. At one point, Frank recounts to Bonnie how Mary came to stay with him long term. He confesses that his biggest fear is that of ruining Mary’s life. He tells Bonnie that he woke up every day thinking he would drop Mary off at social services to save her. But then somehow, she would find a way to awaken another resilient part of him. He began to realize that he needed her, just as much as she needed him. It was undeniably heartwarming (spoiler alert!) to see how the power of connection and purpose kept this unlikely duo together.

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.