Derek Winnert

Gifted ***½ (2017, Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate) – Movie Review

Mmm, nice, we get the sweet and soft side of Captain America (that would be Chris Evans) in this gentle and appealing heart-tugger, neatly handled by director Marc Webb and tastily written by writer and Tom Flynn.

It is real old fashioned stuff, but in a good way, managing to raise its game well above the TV movie level you’d expect of it.

That’s partly the performances: Chris Evans is a good actor, and gets a chance to show it, and the unexpectedly cast Lindsay Duncan has a bit of a field day as his bitchy mom, the long-absent granny who turns up to make a real pain of herself. She is the granny from hell. Duncan knows a good thing when she sees it, and there was no way she was going to mess up this super opportunity for her.

Evans plays Frank, a bit of a slacker and total under-achiever, a really nice, sweet and gentle single man, who finds himself raising his niece Mary alone in an appealing coastal town in Florida. Frank, has more than a few issues, but makes the perfect dad. He’s got a loyal, supportive neighbour in Roberta Taylor (played by Octavia Spencer). Weirdly, Roberta is also Frank’s landlady and best friend.

Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) discovers the girl is gifted, a child prodigy who could benefit from school for the gifted teaching. However, Frank wants a normal school life for Mary. Bonnie likes the look of Frank, and why not? She starts to get close to Mary and very close to Frank. The proper boundaries are, surprisingly, crossed.

Anyway, remember the granny from hell? It of course turns out she is the root of all Frank’s issues, and, having turned up from the city like the proverbial bad penny, won’t leave him alone, or especially, once she finds the girl is gifted at her own subject of maths, the seven-year-old Mary. Granny, an English over-achiever, thinks Frank isn’t doing his best for Mary. She wants to take over. A bitter custody battle ensues between mother and son for the girl. It is Captain American versus the Universe.

The outcome is never in any doubt, but the film gives the battle a good run for its money, and granny gets a fair chance at whipping Frank’s butt. Duncan proves quite the adversary for captain America. She’d make a good villain in a super-hero movie. Evelyn is an appalling piece of work, but Duncan makes us sympathise with her, and eventually feel sorry for her and forgive her.

The 10-year-old Mckenna Grace acts like a long-term acting veteran, Slate adds quirky charm and a bit of fun, Spencer brings on the grave, all-knowing, long-suffering demeanour (hers is the least rewarding role of the principals though).

And there it is. If this is the kind of film you like, this is a very good version of it, intelligent, engrossing and enjoyable, well paced and smartly filmed. A bit middle aged and middle of the road, but that is a real place for real people. It is a morally-minded film about characters and relationships, doubts and dilemmas, honour and good behaviour. There is no CGI in this zone. Nobody dies. Enough said.

It has done extremely well to take more than $24 million in the US, and will make a nice profit on its low budget of $7 million. So that’s good then. We so need middle of the road, otherwise it’s just Terminators and horror schlock. We need decent movies, in both senses, and this is a must see of that kind of film.

© Derek Winnert 2017 Movie Review

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