Chris Evans is so assured and natural in his multiple performances as Captain America that I think we all take for granted just how good he is as a performer to make that character (which many in the public had dismissed as a jingoistic one-note caricature before the 2011 Captain America film) feel so real and dramatically investable. You can see the guy’s talent as an actor in plenty of other works too, including Sunshine (which way more people need to see!), Snowpiercer (ditto) and in his small but hilarious role as Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Evans gets to flex his dramatic muscles once more in the new Marc Webb drama Gifted.
In Gifted, Evans gets to plays Frank Adler, a freelance boat repairman residing in Florida with his seven-year-old niece Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), whom he adopted as his daughter after the tragic passing of his sister. The two live a simple but satisfactory life together with their one-eyed cat Frank, though Mary’s less than enthusiastic about the prospect about being sent to a public school for the first time (she’s been homeschooled by Frank up to this point). When she gets to her classroom, her teacher, Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), soon discovers that Mary is a child prodigy, one capable of doing the most complex.of math problems despite being only seven.
Frank is soon pressured from both school officials and his distant mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), to put Mary in a more high-end academic school that’ll allow Mary to flourish intellectually but Frank is insistent that his nice have a normal life. Evelyn responds to this by dragging Frank into a court case over custody rights to Mary. Plenty of scenes intended to drum up tears and heartfelt moments ensue. Going by the plot summary, it’s easy to see the conventional plot turns this thing could go down and Tom Flynn’s screenplay does head down the majority of them, making for a movie that feels more paint by the numbers than it should be.
That being said, while it is certainly more conventionally told, it’s not offensively so, even if it does become a little too easy to see how supposedly harrowing emotional experiences between the characters will get resolved, undercutting a good chunk of the intended dramatic tension. Still, I’ve seen plenty of worse feature films than Gifted that heavily leaned on more rote plot mechanics in an uncreative manner (then again, I’ve also seen plenty of much better films that leaned heavily on familiar plot mechanics but utilized them in a more creative manner) and Flynn’s script has the good sense to keep the plot decently structured and incorporate plenty of small moments between Frank and Mary that do a good job of making it clear why they care for each other as father and daughter.
Some of those quite scenes (namely a sunset conversation between Frank and Mary about the existence of God) are the best part of the movie thanks to their well-established rapport that the actors playing these characters handle well. McKenna Grace gets saddled with some clunky moments in the script but she’s otherwise solid in her turn as a child prodigy while Chris Evans manages to immerse himself in the role of Frank Adler particularly well. Dude’s able to create a wholly different creation compared to his work with past Marvel, Danny Boyle and Edgar Wright movies and I like that he goes for more restrained acting choices in the more overtly emotional scenes.
Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer aren’t given a whole to do in their supporting roles but these are two strong character actors who still manage to bring their own distinctive talents to the parts. All of these actors are guided by director Marc Webb, who seems to be way more comfortable in this domain of filmmaking compared to those Amazing Spider-Man movies he directed. He does lend a sense of assuredness in his direction that helps make Gifted a solid diversion that doesn’t really have all that much uniqueness to it but it does have some good performances and more often than not may even occasionally pluck at one or two of your heartstrings.