Gifted (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan. Runtime: 1h 41 min. 

Marc Webb’s first return to indie after directing the two Amazing Spider-Man films is remarkable, and it’s also refreshing that Chris Evans does intimate indies like this in between his Captain America outings.

In Gifted, a sweet family dynamic is explored as a single man Frank Adler (Evans) is raising his niece in a small Florida town. His niece, seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) isn’t like other children at all; she’s a child prodigy in mathematics. She’s been homeschooled the first part of her life after her mother died, and now Frank is realizing she doesn’t have great social skills and puts her in first grade in public school.

Frank’s drawn into a custody battle with his estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), because once Evelyn learns that Mary’s a prodigy – she wants to bring her into a life dedicated to mathematics.

The custody battle drives the plot and it’s interesting because there’s merit to both arguments. Evelyn doesn’t want Mary’s potential to be wasted, and Frank’s fighting to give Mary a normal childhood even though she’s an extraordinary little girl. Lindsay Duncan is great as Frank’s mom, the character’s hard but she has good moments in the role, and even though she’s the opposition of the custody battle, it’s so well-written that there’s still some sympathy for the character. It’s intriguing seeing the backstory of her relationships with her children.

Gifted - Mckenna, Chris

Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. (Source)

As for the main cast, the chemistry between Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace is magical. You wholly believe they’re uncle and niece and the development of their relationship and characters is great. Their fights tug at the right heartstrings and the film’s a true tear-jerker. The chemistry also helps a predictable story become one of 2017’s most charming films.

Mckenna Grace is also a great young actress, and since she lost her two front teeth before filming, she’s that much cuter. She’s funny and captures the sass and attitude in the role. It’s funny when she’s sassy not because she’s adorable, but that the lines are so good and she has so much energy that it’s so much fun watching her. She’s just like a real kid having fun, and like her character, just trying to be a kid. She also has a convincing emotional range.

The character makes math fun because she’s so passionate about it and when Frank tries to close her homework so she plays outside, she just opens another book. Her hunger to learn is almost contagious.

Chris Evans is also fantastic. The character’s strong because he’s vulnerable and realistic, since he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he’s trying his best. He wants what’s best for Mary, and he’s trying to raise Mary how he thinks his sister would have wanted. He’s fighting for normalcy for her. I also loved how he doesn’t try to influence her when forming opinions and wants her to choose things for herself and grow her independence. He’s becoming a bit of a new superhero, fighting for his niece.

There’s a scene where Frank and Mary are silhouettes in front of a sunset on a Florida beach (well, it’s filmed in Georgia) and Frank is holding her hand and Mary’s walking up his legs. They’re having a conversation that shows that Frank doesn’t want to influence her beliefs in anything. Their chemistry and Marc Webb’s direction make this little charming scene because it’s so intimately done and so human. It’s engaging and unique, and it works so well because their relationship feels so convincing.

Gifted - Mckenna, Octavia

Octavia Spencer and Mckenna Grace in Gifted. (Source)

It’s also little scenes like this and scenes like Mary singing with neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) that make this so damn charming and memorable. The movie’s a drama and while it’s sappy, the sentiments ring true and you get lost in everything the characters go through.

Some of the film’s heartbreaking and there’s a lot of funny material and some big laughs. It’s one of those films that I can say made me laugh and cry, and it has a surprising ability to do both at the same time. This is just such an engaging custody battle and a story about trying to be a good parent and doing what’s best for your kid.

The supporting cast’s also memorable. Jenny Slate (Zootopia) is Mary’s teacher Bonnie and she’s part of some funny moments. Octavia Spencer is good friends with Frank and Mary and their landlady. She has a lot of big laughs, too, and she’s a delight to watch. There’s also a one-eyed cat named Fred that’s a scene-stealer.

The story’s sometimes predictable but it has a few surprises, and the performances and engaging story it tells make it a film not to be missed – even if math bores the hell out of you.

Score: 90/100

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About Time (2013)

About TimeReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy. Runtime: 123 min.

“About Time” is not one’s average romantic film. It might have some of the same messages, but most don’t involve time travel. The story involves Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who, on his 21st birthday, learns that he has the ability to travel in time, like all of the men in his family before him. He decides to use his new-found ability to score a girlfriend, because he’s always known his life will be about love. Though, when time travel is involved – and especially when love is involved – nothing is ever so easy.

The way the awkward but charming Tim goes about wooing Mary (Rachel McAdams) is clever. He first meets her at one of those blind dining dates, where it’s like a blind date and it’s completely in the dark. He hits it off with her, but when his funny roommate Harry (Tom Hollander, as a character who is funny but often has one of those “everything bad happens to me” attitudes) has a professional crisis, Tim goes back in time and in turn doesn’t meet Mary; so he must meet her in other ways, in very funny ways, I might add.

The time travel plays a big role in the film but it’s light and easy to follow, mostly because the characters don’t have to worry about the butterfly effect. Of course, time travel comes with surprises and secrets, but I won’t spoil them. It’s refreshing when time travel is simple because sometimes it gets too complicated, and it would simply bring the whole film down tonally. The characters can only time travel to where they have been at that exact moment, and if they want to go somewhere else, they’d have to run there and couldn’t conveniently go straight there. Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) comedically explains it by saying “you cannot go back in time and kill Hitler.” The film is also light on entertainment from time to time, but it never let my attention wander once; perhaps because the characters keep viewers quite interested in the movie.

Tim’s a great character. He’s a selfless one, too, because he cares dearly about his family and will go back in time to help them. He would also do it for his friends, and, of course, himself. The only thing he uses time travel for is to avoid embarrassing situations, or edit his life to make things better. His time travel adventures are hysterical and charming. Time travel makes him make difficult decisions – but it also enables him to have privileges no one else does. Domhnall Gleeson delivers a heartwarming and natural performance. Tim is just an average guy with an extraordinary secret, and a very awesome family.

Bill Nighy is Arthur, Tim’s father who teaches him life lessons – like many other fathers, and who touches people with his great kindess. There’s an eccentric uncle – Desmond (Richard Cordery) who is very forgetful. Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) is Tim’s sister, someone who faces struggles in life because of her relationships with people. The mother (Lindsay Duncan) is a character who doesn’t have a lot of depth, but she doesn’t have to because this is much more of a tale of fathers and sons. There’s really nothing quite like the relationship a father and son share, is there? That’s what makes this film have such a big heart, and this has the ability to touch everyone’s soul – and I really wanted to call my dad after I saw this film.

Since Rachel McAdams has a new haircut for her character she looks much more like a simple beauty, but she is still very charming and a great choice to play the leading lady. She wants what is best for her family and the actress is great at what she’s called to do, like portraying emotions with her eyes and like walking down the aisle to the sound of Jimmy Fallon’s “Il Mondo, in one hell of an aisle walk. It’s also a great movie soundtrack, so that’s a real bonus.

This movie family is natural and seems like everyone else’s, and each character gets their moment to shine. This is a truly wonderful and lovely film that makes viewers care about all of the characters. It teaches that you should cherish all of the little moments and make the best out of everything; and live everyday like it’s the last day of your life, and it’s the last day you’ll see those you’ll love. It’s a very relatable message and a well-thought out one by Richard Curtis, who also wrote such romantic hits as “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill.” This is just such an unforgettable celebration of life, and it highlights the struggles of life, which one can overcome, but also focuses on the true joy of life, marriage and family.

I think this film is a big success because there’s never a dull moment, and I let it willingly take my emotions on a roller coaster. I was either smiling or I felt like I had a big emotional lump in my throat. That just says the film is powerful, if you ask me. It’s hilarious and it didn’t feel like two hours at all, which is great. It cleverly avoids clichés and I never felt the need to start mocking it when it gets too sappy, which is an effect the majority of romantic films have on me; including a somewhat similar film also starring Rachel McAdams called “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” This film made me forget about my notepad and I got lost in the experience of it all.

Score100/100