By: Jessica Goddard
Gifted is contrived, tired, and – frankly – just plain boring. This story shamelessly and lazily recycles almost every component of its plot to the point where you’re left wondering why you’re not the one making millions writing such basic, formulaic scripts.
The film follows the predictable triangle between Mary, an orphaned child math genius, her uncle Frank, who raised her since her mother’s suicide when she was a baby, and Evelyn, Mary’s maternal grandmother who crawls out of the woodwork when she finds out Mary is a math prodigy like her late mother before her.
Frank (Chris Evans) is the super-duper good guy, who gives up a job as a philosophy professor to move to rural Florida and raise his niece alone. He’s noble, he’s responsible, he has basically unlimited patience. But Frank isn’t so much a believable, fully realized character as he is Captain America without superpowers – devoid of flaws, as well as energy.
Mary (Mr. Church’s Mckenna Grace) is supposed to be endearing, but she’s just a sarcastic, condescending, grueling little twerp. Yes, we get it. You’re a genius. In fact, you’re such a genius that you find all the other kids your age dull and annoying and understimulating. Oh, you prefer the company of grown adults? Shocker.
In comes Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), the two-dimensional grandmother who’s had nothing to do with Mary until she gets word that her grandchild has the natural ability to follow in her math whiz mother’s footsteps and pursue a life dedicated to solving complex equations. One wonders why this woman bothers with all of this villainous scheming – does she really care this much about the family’s math legacy that she’s willing to traumatize her seven-year-old granddaughter by ripping her away from the only family she’s ever known? Apparently.
A custody battle ensues, and there is – wait for it – tension!
But, in fairness to the evil Evelyn, one of the more obvious questions left unaddressed by Tom Flynn’s script is the matter of why exactly Frank puts up so much resistance to the idea of Mary getting a free, quality education if his mission is to give her the best life possible. The first time Mary is offered an invitation to an elite school where she can be challenged according to her capabilities, before Evelyn even enters the picture, Frank says “absolutely not, no way, uh uh”. The film thinks all it has to do is pull the “I want this abnormal child to have a normal life” card, but something doesn’t add up. I mean, Mary likes to do math. In her free time, she does math. Uncle Frank has to pry her away from her math workbooks to get her to go outside. It would be one thing if Mary was super reluctant to utilize her gifts, and regularly tried to hide her extraordinary talents. Instead, she’s completely in everyone’s face about her genius; from patronizing her first-grade teacher in class to correcting MIT professors on their equations.
In this respect, Gifted seems confused about what point it’s trying to make. Mary obviously enjoys complex math and wants to continue with it – so what’s Frank’s problem? She can still be a fairly “normal kid” if she attends a private school like her grandmother and her teachers want. She would just be solving equations at her appropriate level. And besides, Mary repeatedly expresses contempt for her current classmates, and doesn’t seem to have any friends besides a one-eyed cat and her adult neighbour. Maybe she would stand a chance at making some real friends her own age if she did attend this fancier, more advanced school. Plus, Frank is an ex-professor turned boat mechanic – there’s nothing preventing him from up-and-moving to wherever Mary’s private school may be located.
Even with that aside, there is really nothing new about Gifted. Unfortunately, the usually-refreshing Octavia Spencer is typecast as Roberta, Frank’s supportive neighbour, in the same fierce yet full of maternal compassion role we’ve already seen from her. Jenny Slate, who plays Mary’s first-grade teacher, becomes an “unexpected” (totally expected) love interest for Frank.
Once all the characters are introduced, you suspect you know how everything’s going to work out in the end – and you’re right. You don’t have to be a genius to work out this formula.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod