What a lovely little movie is “Gifted,” an uplifting tearjerker about a little girl and the grownups who think they know what’s best for her. And hey, Captain America is one of the stars.
Chris Evans sheds his shield for his role as Frank Adler, who is bringing up his niece, Mary (the amazing McKenna Grace), 7. The child’s mother, who is dead, was a brilliant mathematician. Now Mary, like her mother, has a grasp of numbers far beyond scholars four and five times her age.
Mary’s world is quite small. Frank is a freelance boat repairman. They share their home with a one-eyed cat named Fred and they are good friends with their neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer). Roberta isn’t so sure that Frank should enroll Mary in first grade because she knows it will be a shock to the child.
And so it is. Mary spends her time being exasperated at how little her fellow students know.
Her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”) is surprised, and then astonished, that Mary can solve complex math problems that Bonnie has to check on a calculator.
Bonnie recognizes that Mary is gifted, although Frank tries to brush it off.
Then Frank’s snooty mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan, “About Time”) comes to visit, and decides that she knows exactly what Frank should do about Mary: The child should attend MIT. Frank, on the other hand, thinks Mary should be around other children her own age and just enjoy being a kid.
McKenna Grace is a marvelous performer, and it’s great fun to watch her character develop and grow (one of my favorite scenes involves Mary and a bully who has victimized one of her classmates – watch the expression on the little boy who, because of Mary’s intervention, goes from zero to hero with a few hours. This is simply delightful). She’s the next Dakota Fanning, a kid performer with a natural ability that’s bound to land her numerous future roles.
Marc Webb, who directed the last two “Spider-Man” movies, is really good at helping us focus on the relationships here, especially those between generations in the same family. Evans and McKenna have a natural onscreen chemistry that is great fun to watch.
Although the screenplay sometimes becomes manipulative, it also has an earnestness that balances it out to a crowd-pleaser that keeps its smarts intact and never stoops to melodrama.
The tone of the movie has a gentle quality that’s similar to “Hidden Figures.” Why not treat yourself, your family and friends to a little “Gifted?”