PLOT: A man (Chris Evans) must battle his own mother in court over the custody of his niece, a child prodigy in mathematics.
REVIEW: GIFTED marks the return of director Marc Webb (500 DAYS OF SUMMER) to lower-key indie fare (albeit a studio financed version with movie stars) after a sojourn directing THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and its much-maligned sequel. With his experience as a tent pole director under his belt, Webb has made an ambitious character-driven drama, but also a very messy one that collapses under the weight of a schmaltzy story thats as old as Hollywood itself.
Cute orphans and their lovable, shaggy dog father-figure caretakers are enduringly popular, going all the way back to the Charlie Chaplin classic, THE KID, and GIFTED hits all the familiar beats, with Evans the saintly dad who wants his niece to have a normal childhood rather than be pigeonholed as a prodigy. To its credit, the film fleshes out his resistance to her education somewhat, with it explained that her mother, his sister, collapsed under the weight of her own intellect, committing suicide at a young age. Too bad then that after introducing this interesting development, the movies given an all-too convenient villain via Evanss scheming mother (Lindsay Duncan).
Almost cartoonishly evil with her British accent and hatred of Evanss one-eyed cat, a furry feline named Fred (who steals the show), theres no shading to the character at all. She simply wants to exploit the child for her genius, believing that someone that gifted has no right to be a child, but virtually belongs to academia. Even worse, a twist late in the film gives his sister another motivation for having taken her own life, something Evans has known about from the start, making his aversion to her education suddenly inexplicable.
The terrifying mother figure is contrasted with the earthier Octavia Spencer, as a neighbor whos so friendly she virtually shares custody of the child with Evans so he can still get out there and pick up girls on Friday nights. Guess what happens when the child, Mary, gets a cute new teacher played by Jenny Slate. Webb, and writer Tom Flynn have ultimately crafted too thin a tale, which is a predictable as a soap opera, even if its well intentioned. Webbs also made a dull-looking film, with a few choices such as the obnoxious use of shaky-cam in certain scenes, making it seem that Webbs actually picked up a few bad habits he needs to free himself of.
Pretty much the only nice thing one can say about GIFTED is that stars Chris Evans and young McKenna Grace have nice chemistry. Even still, his character is underdeveloped; with it never explained why he chucked a career as a philosophy professor to barely scrape by as a boat mechanic. Hes so saintly that had they at least given him an even slight edge, as they did with the Kevin Costner character in the similarly themed BLACK/WHITE, the outcome might have been less predictable. Still, he gives a sturdy, earnest performance, and the ten-year-old Grace is as good as any child actor Ive seen lately. GIFTED isnt an atrocious film, but its a flat one and disappointing return to his roots for Webb.