What’s your job as a parent? Is it to ensure your child has a happy childhood, or is it to help make sure your child maximizes his or her potential? What if you’re the caretaker rather than a birth parent? Is your role minimized when it comes to determining how the child in your care is raised?
The movie Gifted explores all the complicated answers to these questions in a poignant and emotional way. The dashing Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, a man raising his late sister’s daughter Mary the best way he can. Although he never had explicit instructions from his sister in terms of how she would have wanted her daughter to grow up, he trusts his memory of his sister, raising Mary the way he thinks her mother would have wanted her to be raised if she was still alive. Frank is doing his best to make sure his niece has a happy childhood, the kind of childhood his sister never had.
Mary, played by the wonderful little actress Mckenna Grace, is a sassy seven and half year old who happens to be a math prodigy, just like her mother. While Frank has done everything to help Mary explore the mathematical genius aspect of herself, he is equally earnest in his attempt to give Mary a “normal” life like other kids her age. When he sends her off to elementary school for the first time, Mary’s extraordinary skills are exposed, suddenly changing the dynamic of their relationship as other adults question what’s best for Mary.
Frank’s mother Evelyn, played by Lindsay Duncan, is convinced that Frank isn’t adequately suited to be Mary’s guardian, accusing him of squashing Mary’s mathematical gifts rather than harnessing them. Frank fears that Evelyn’s intentions, while seemingly sincere, are more about fulfilling her own dreams for her late daughter rather than truly caring about what Mary really wants.
Meanwhile, Mary’s best friend, their neighbor Roberta, played by Octavia Spencer, is fiercely protective of Mary, seeing Mary for who she truly is rather than a reflection of a woman she never even knew. Jenny Slate plays Mary’s teacher, a woman who agonizes over the best way to meet Mary’s extraordinary needs.
Mary is pitted against her uncle and grandmother as each fights for what is best for her. Mckenna Grace’s emotional performance was stunning, considering her age, and as her feelings were both explored and ignored, my eyes welled with tears. While I could see both family members’ perspectives clearly, I found myself definitely pulling for one side, imagining what I would want for Mary if she was my daughter.
A movie goer named Elizabeth shared her opinion with me at the conclusion of the movie. “I thought it was a sad, sad story with a ______ ending.” (You didn’t think I would spoil it for you by sharing the exact word Elizabeth used to describe the ending, did you?) She added, “I think every lady who watches this film will fall in love with Chris Evans.” I agree!
I fell in love with Gifted, even if it felt a little slow at times. The acting was exceptional, and the story line evoked a lot of emotions as I wondered what I would do if I was the one responsible for raising Mary. Yes, it’s important to help a child reach his or her potential, but life is short, and childhood lasts but only a brief moment. I kept thinking that Mary has her whole life to solve the most difficult math problems, but only has one chance to be a kid.
The love that Frank feels for Mary may be complicated at times, but his loyalty to her and to his late sister is unwavering. We should all be so lucky to have someone like Frank Adler in our own lives, someone who recognizes that our true gifts are more abstract than math problems on a chalkboard.
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Director: Marc Webb
Actors: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes