THERE are several positive factors in the mixed equation that is “Gifted,” starring Chris Evans and the appealing 10-year-old Mckenna Grace: A brilliant and precocious yet sweetly empathetic young girl. A devoted and decidedly hunky father figure. And then there’s math itself, presented not as a refuge for social misfits, but as an exciting and elegant pursuit.
Unfortunately, a movie about mathematical formulas relies way too much on movie-making formula, and the result is way less than the sum of its parts. Indeed, “Gifted,” directed by Marc Webb, often feels like the incomplete shell of a movie, with the guts and connective tissue missing.
This is hardly the fault of the cast, which also features the welcome (but underused) presence of Octavia Spencer, and the estimable Scottish actress Lindsay Duncan. Rather, it seems due to the way-too-obvious dialogue and often unconvincing plot twists, not to mention a courtroom subplot that is, strangely, rarely interesting.
We meet Frank (Evans) and 6-year-old Mary (Grace) as the two are readying for her first day of school. Until now, Frank, Mary’s uncle who has been raising her since she was a baby, has home-schooled her, but that well has run dry. Mary, a child prodigy, is not excited for school, and one can see why: the children are asked simple addition questions, but Mary shows an ability to do complex multiplication in her head. Immediately, the teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) knows she has a gifted child on her hands.
Mary has a caring disposition and a sweet smile, but also a dry wit when bantering with Frank. When Mary’s teacher approaches Frank after school that first day, the girl whispers: “Oh, it’s my teacher. She probably wants to remind me what one plus one is.”
When the school principal suggests — almost orders — that Frank enroll Mary in a school for gifted children, Frank insists otherwise. He has some knowledge from his own family of what it’s like to live as a prodigy, cut off from a normal social life. He wants Mary to have friends and playdates.
In marches Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Duncan), a hard-edged Brit (and former mathematician herself) who has clear ideas of what she wants for Mary: a life of productivity, brilliance, academic fame. She brings Mary up to MIT, to show off the girl’s mathematical brain. Most importantly, she sues Frank for custody.
Lots of courtroom scenes follow with both plot and dialogue proving to be overly simplistic and in some cases, simply not believable.