It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 8 years since director Marc Webb first shot to fame; delivering the sensational (500) Days of Summer to an unsuspecting but welcome audience. A modern classic in every sense, that movie’s success led to Webb being the man Sony pitched their tent to for their hastily rebooted Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Now that franchise had its fair share problems – most being narrative, but Webb delivered on his part. Since then he has worked on TV and Gifted marks his return to cinema after a noticeable 3 year absence.
Webb brings a warmth and accessibility to everything he touches and in many ways, Gifted is exactly the kind of film he needed to return with. A small and endearing picture, Gifted follows Frank Adler (Captain America himself Chris Evans), a man who spends his time fixing old boats and who looks after his 10 year-old niece Mary (a startlingly astute performance from young McKenna Grace). Wise beyond her years and sharp-witted, Mary isn’t like the other kids and when she finally starts school after being tutored at home by Frank, it becomes clear to her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) that she is gifted.
With mounting pressure placed on Frank to put her into a private school, Mary’s estranged grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) resurfaces looking for full custody of the girl. Frank made a solemn promise to his sister before she died that he would look after Mary and give her a proper childhood, so he fights Evelyn in court as home truths surface in a custody battle that threatens to remove Mary from Frank’s life.
The central success of the film lies in the chemistry between Chris Evans and McKenna Grace. Theirs is a believable bond that shirks away cliché in place of genuine sentiment. Evans does exceptionally well here and it’s nice to see him return to close-knit drama. As mentioned before, Grace is a revelation, handing in a performance that’s truly spectacular. Their rapport is sweet and believable, and the two bounce of one another to create some real onscreen magic.
The supporting cast are all solid too with Octavia Spencer stealing her scenes as a family friend who regularly babysits Mary. It’s refreshing to see Jenny Slate hand in a proper performance and Lindsay Duncan makes sure that the token villain role has some sentiment behind the anger. Her exchanges with Evans are particular noteworthy. Glenn Plummer does well as Frank’s attorney and provides some nice moments when he’s cross-examining Mary’s biological father.
This could all have resulted in a saccharine TV movie but director Marc Webb makes sure that the human element really shines through in this simple but very well made story. With great performances and a touching story at its core, Gifted is sentimental, sweet and shot with stylish warmth to deliver a family drama that easily wins over your heart.
Cast: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Plummer Director: Marc Webb Writer: Tom Flynn Released By: 20th Century Fox Certificate: 12A Duration: 101 mins Release Date: 16th June 2017