Apr 11, 2017

Custody battles are tough when they involve gifted children.


Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: B+

Director: Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer)

Screenplay: Tom Flynn (Watch It)

Cast: Mckenna Grace (Mr. Church), Jenny Slate (Zootopia), Chris Evans (Captain America)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 41 min

by John DeSando

Seven-year-old Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) is a math genius in director Marc Webb’s semi-realistic, emotion-grabbing drama, Gifted. It feels authentic because the disposition of the orphaned Mary, after her mother’s suicide, is still problematic after half-dozen years.

Mary’s uncle, Frank Adler (Chris Evans), has taken care of her, and by his own admission has done well enough because this bright young girl is happy and healthily skeptical of idiots. However, her Uncle is a boat mechanic with no prospects. At least not by the standards of aristocratic grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

So goes the battle about what’s better for the little gifted one, an ordinary school or one for special kids. It all feels so real to me because there are arguments on both sides—even as charming as Evans makes Frank—and grandma has some points about the proper nurturing of a genius.

Two of the plot manipulations are Frank turns out to be an ex-Boston U philosophy professor and a valuable math paper suddenly turns up to change the game.  Whatever, because  the game is who gets to direct Mary’s life, and Frank wins affectively while grandma wins empirically.

Throughout, Evans plays Frank as low-key, hardly a Captain America as in his famous pop-cult role but really a good guy with soul. It’s effective to let Mary take center stage while Evans carries the heavy adult path. Although Mary is a prodigy, she is never a problem.  Her disappointment when her uncle caves to the demands of the court is a realistic touch that does not curry favor with the Mary-sympathetic audience.

While some may complain the ending is too pat or cute, the larger point is that there can be a resolution where both parties win.  But it all is emotionally draining with an element of doubt more a condition of human nature than a court of law. 

Gifted is a gift at this dull movie time of the year: imperfect, not always feel good, the best we can do with the calamitous contest between well-meaning combatants for the life of a gifted child.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at