What would you do if you had the most intelligent kid in the entire universe? Of course my child IS the most intelligent child in the whole universe. So don’t pretend yours is. OK! Maybe you can pretend. Not good enough? Alright. Go ahead and believe your child is the most gifted. To be honest, if you didn’t believe your child is the most amazing child ever, I would ask, “What’s wrong with you?”
We love our kids and we believe that they are the brightest and the best. We see them through every one of their successes. From the first time they speak a word, to the first steps, to graduation from high school, we follow and invest in the successes of our children. But what happens when they are so bright that they have a hard time functioning with other children? What are we supposed to do as parents? These questions and many more are posed in the new movie Gifted which was released April 7th.
Review of Gifted
**Spoiler Alert** (You can skip to the end of the spoilers for my assessment)
McKenna Grace stars as Mary, the young mathematical prodigy, kept by her somewhat protective and completely incompetent Uncle Frank (Chris Evans). No one would ever choose to have his as their parent. He wouldn’t have chosen to become a parent. But after the death of his sister parenthood beckons as he has a little baby who needs care. What was he supposed to do? Should he send her to a Foster Care situation? Would it be better if he left her in the hands of her grandmother? Why was he the one to be chosen to take care of Mary in the first place?
These are questions that are hang in the air before the movie begins. We open with Frank trying to get Mary up and ready for school for the first time. He offers her a special breakfast to get moving. I know there have been times we felt like Frank looked. But he didn’t look like he was a typical parent trying to get his child off to school. And when Mary gets out of bed, she looks even more ready than Frank to take on the world. This is true until she has to go to school. She doesn’t want to go to school. Frank feels like it’s important. And part of us wonders whether his insistence is his palming the child off on someone else to take care of while he does other things.
But our view of Frank quickly changes as he is accosted by the next door neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) who seems to have a key to his apartment. She warns him that sending her to the school will do no good. She threatens more if things go the way she expects. And then she asks why he just didn’t continue to home school Mary. How could this man who seems to be barely able to take care of himself home school his child? They leave us wondering.
Then we transition to Mary’s school and her being lulled to sleep by the teacher, Ms. Stevenson (Jenny Slate), and the excitement of the students. She is obviously bored and questions why they need to carry on instruction like this in the classroom. The teacher challenges Mary, but it quickly becomes apparent that Mary is not only bright, but incredibly gifted. The teacher sees the need to challenge the child and eventually brings this up with Frank, the man she thinks is Mary’s father. She brings up opportunities, which he quickly turns down. You begin to wonder why.
Through a series of missteps, Frank eventually finds himself in court, facing his own mother (Lindsay Duncan). She wants to take the child away to Boston to get a more challenging education. She hopes to fix some of the issues where things did not work out for her daughter. Frank wants to keep Mary in Florida. He believes that he can take better care of Mary, and would honor his sisters dying wish in making sure Mary lives a real life and not have her whole identity tied up in her giftedness. I will leave both the court battle and what ends up transpiring out of this review to prevent from revealing too much. I will just tell you that everyone doesn’t die. Because I know you were worried about it, I will at least tell you that much.
**End of Spoilers**
I think that this was a well crafted movie with a creditable job by the actors. You always wonder how someone is going to transition from superhero to every-man. And Chris Evans does a good job of bringing himself down from the self-righteousness of Captain America to the down on his luck Frank Adler. His role is pivotal in understanding all of the issues at stake and there are many. How important is it to push your children into doing important things? When are they ready? How do we balance socialization with academic rigor? And when are we pushing our kids so hard that their success becomes more about us and less about them?
Lindsay Duncan, as the grandmother, does an excellent job of juxtaposing what Frank was with seeing the importance of pushing the child to excel. This may not be in and of itself a bad thing. But her role is to straddle the line of parent who is out for their own benefit versus parent who is out for the best interest of the child. She does a good job of making sure that you never really love her, but you do not hate her either.
Roberta and Ms. Stephenson are adequate as both the conscience and love interest of Frank. They both need to ground him in the real world, and remind him of what truly matters in life. Frank can tend to drift. Because Frank is equally brilliant. But he has seen the impact that focusing only on that. And his background in his philosophy is just a mild clue. Because as a philosopher, Frank loves wisdom, and he has seen the beauty of finding it in other people. These people may not be book smart, but are wise beyond their years in other ways. And he wants this desperately for Mary.
McKenna Grace is wonderful as Mary. While the other actors maybe more pivotal to the pressing questions that the film asks, if we do not care about Mary, the film falls apart. And she does a good job of being both a child, and a prodigy. She doesn’t overplay the hand she is dealt and become overly sentimental. Likewise she doesn’t resort to cheap acting stunts or making the audience feel like she is a 7 year old Rain Man. She needs to be a real kid. And we really need to see this, or we do not care.
I think that for the most part the screenplay is well written, with a few false notes scattered about. I am not saying that leaving me in a puddle of tears should have been the goal of the piece. But I think that in some of the more dramatic moments, the film didn’t quite live up to its potential. The film moved me. It just didn’t move me to the point of where I would give it four stars. Should you go see the movie? Absolutely. Anything that I can enjoy and can connect with my daughter in a way that moves her is a good movie going experience in my book. And if you don’t see it in a first run movie house, definitely see it at a cheap theater before it goes to the small screen.
3 out of 4 stars
**End of Review**
Continue the Conversation
What do you think? I am always interested in knowing what my audience thinks about things. Are you interested in seeing this piece? What would make you want to see it? And beyond that . . . what was the best movie that you saw recently? Is there a film you saw recently you would not classify as a blockbuster but you really enjoyed? What kinds of films are the most meaningful to you? And ultimately, as parents, how would you handle an extremely gifted child? How would you balance the need to socialize with the need to challenge them as well? And how do you keep something as big as this from becoming more about you and less about the child? For me I always make sure that my daughter is still enjoying whatever she is participating in.
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life