By Murphy Kenefick
With the current bombardment of franchises, reboots, sequels and endless rip-offs of previously existing material in the theater today, something like “Gifted” functions as a breath of fresh air. The film revolves around Mary and her uncle (Chris Evans). Mary is a brilliant first grader whose life may be uprooted when her estranged grandmother wants to take custody and place her in a school for advanced kids. Despite a potentially cliché premise, director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) elevates the material to make an enjoyable, thoughtful entry into the ‘kid genius’ subgenre of Sundance-esque films.
The movie opens with a humorous back-and-forth over breakfast between Mary and her uncle, Frank, on the first day of school. Mary is resistant, insisting that she would be better off by just staying home because there’s nothing that school can teach her. But Frank won’t hear any of it, and declares that she needs to do things that normal kids do, which means going to school and making friends. This debate shapes the rest of the film, especially when Mary’s grandmother appears and attempts to take her back to Boston and follow in the footsteps of her mother, a math prodigy who committed suicide shortly after Mary’s birth. Naturally, this all leads to an emotional conflict that makes its way to the courtroom, with impassioned arguments from both sides.
If what I am describing sounds like the plot of a midday Lifetime movie, that’s because it kind of is one. But what makes this movie so impressive is that it constantly avoids ever feeling like it. Instead of falling into drippy, obvious plot beats, it instead is loaded with engaging dialogue, layered plots, recurring jokes and a special one-eyed cat named Fred that repeatedly steals the show. Every scene is endearing, not in a manipulative way, but in an honest, empathetic way, where you really feel for each of these people. There is no clear bad guy or any right or wrong answers, just different opinions and methods on how to raise an especially gifted child. These differing perspectives are both convincing, and through humor and bitterness, they will be argued until the end. By that end, this movie stands on its own merits aside from the rest of its genre. It’s enjoyable, satisfying and occasionally very funny. While it may not contain any grand revelations or groundbreaking original storytelling, it is different enough from the common fare to make a worthwhile trip to the theater. Even if it may be a 3-star movie on its own, it’s a 3.5 for me due to how different it is from everything else out currently.
BONUS POINTS: The grandmother referring to her rich ex-husband who has gone to live in the plains as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Mutual.”
NEGATIVE POINTS: I know that I’m in the minority here, but I could do without Jenny Slate.
3.5 out of 5 Stars