In the past four years, Chris Evans has done one non-Avengers movie. One. Sure, if you got a good thing going, you’re allowed to keep at it, but would it kill a guy to branch out a little? As it so happens we finally get him shield-less in Gifted, and lo and behold, he can actually carry a movie that doesn’t involve superheroes.

As Frank Adler, a low-income boat repairman in Florida, Evans proves he has not only some range but some honest-to-goodness talent. He plays the uncle to young Mary (Mckenna Grace), a precocious seven-year-old whose mother Diane (Frank’s sister), certified math genius, committed suicide shortly after Mary was born. Frank took Mary in and has been bringing her up the way Diane wanted—as a little kid in a normal school with normal friends, despite her off-the-charts intelligence.

When she reaches first grade, Mary has trouble fitting in; she can solve college-level math equations even though her classmates are still stuck on 2+2. Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) recommends that she be bumped up to a local private school for gifted children, but Frank refuses, arguing it’s his responsibility to follow Diane’s wishes.

Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who arrives on the scene after the principal went over Frank’s head to recommend accelerating Mary’s studies. Clearly still upset at her daughter’s wasted potential, the condescending Evelyn doesn’t blink before taking Frank to court to sue for custody of Mary, adamant that she won’t let her granddaughter go down the same road.

Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) doesn’t break any new ground certainly, but Gifted doesn’t require it. It’s a simple, quiet story about family, and that’s exactly what Tom Flynn’s screenplay delivers. Equal measures of comedy and drama (with some tear-jerking thrown in for good measure) keep the film flowing along like a gentle stream. Consider it a PG-rated Good Will Hunting for the milk-and-cookies set.

Though Evans may be the bankable star, it’s 10-year-old Grace who turns heads the most. She has the talent and ability of actors many times her age; hers is a phenomenal performance, certainly worthy of attention. The always-reliable Octavia Spencer pops up, too—excellent as Frank’s neighbor and Mary’s part-time babysitter.

A solid offering of heartfelt drama, Gifted manages to rise above some Nicholas Sparks-level cliches to emerge as an overall success. There will be no doubt in your mind about the film’s final destination, but the journey it takes you on (and the cast that gets you there) is more than worth it.


4/5 stars