REVIEW: Gifted

10 04 2017

Movie dads are a dime a dozen, but we rarely get movies about the specific pressures of paternity. It’s tough to tell, then, whether the pleasures of Marc Webb’s “Gifted” are organic or simply a refreshingly different story in a crowded environment.

There’s plenty to enjoy and identify with in Chris Evans’ Frank Adler, an uncle-cum-surrogate dad who mills about working-class Florida in his dirt-stained undershirt and seemingly permanent bedhead. He’s raising his niece, the film’s titular savant Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), based on his hardscrabble and wisecracking instincts. Segregating the exceptional from the average, he jokes, only produces congressmen. His everyman parenting style gets a shock from the arrival of his ivory tower-minded mother, Lindsay Duncan’s Evelyn.

From there on out, “Gifted” plays out like the Florida Man edition of “Kramer vs. Kramer” with a little dash of “Good Will Hunting” to liven up the familiar settings of family court and therapy sessions. How much that affects each viewer probably depends on their individual tolerance for the well-executed cliché and the obvious emotional moment. When Frank and Mary spend some quality time watching new dads come out of delivery to the hospital waiting room, it’s possible to read the scene as hopelessly cloying or truly touching.

I found “Gifted” somewhere in between, affecting in fits and spurts while never truly melting my heart like a stick of butter in the sun. Evans clearly has a big heart that he pumps into the film, yet Tom Flynn’s script gives him remarkably little agency. Frank is defined primarily in relation to other characters, many of whom float in and out of the plot with whiplash-inducing speed. (And let’s not even brooch the serious ethical debate that Flynn completely sidesteps in the film’s big finale.) But don’t worry everyone, there’s a truly great movie about an uncle struggling to provide adequate guardianship for the orphaned child of his departed sibling – and it’s readily available to watch. B-

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