Monday, April 10, 2017

The double-edged sword of genius: Marc Webb and Tom Flynn's GIFTED hits theaters

The child of a woman who was a math genius, little Mary Adler herself appears to be in that same category. But because her mother, an early suicide, was unable to negotiate the world properly, Mary's uncle Frank is determined that his niece will somehow gain social skills, friends and a little fun in life along with her higher mathematics. This situation sets the scene for the hugely enjoyable, very well-written,-directed and -acted GIFTED -- which pretty much defines the intelligent, feel-good movie experience.

As written by Tom Flynn and directed by Marc Webb (the latter is shown at right), the film is whip-smart and funny from the beginning, filled as it is with characters who seem at once intelligent and real, humane and all-too-human, given to anger, jealousy, grudges and so many other typical foibles.
Starring Chris Evans as Uncle Frank and the already quite seasoned young actress McKenna Grace as Mary (both are shown above and below), these two performers play together with such skill, comfort and ease that you'll imagine they've spent a lifetime in each other's company.

Mr. Evans has by now proved time and again how much better an actor than mere super-hero hunk he is, and Ms Grace combines just the right amount of beauty, intelligence and sass to convince us of just about anything she might want. The two play together so beautifully and spiritedly that if the movie were a mere two-hander, we would not mind.

But the plot thickens upon the introduction of Frank's mother and Mary's grandmother (Lindsay Duncan, above), also a ex-math-whiz and wealthy woman who is determined to provide Mary with what grandma is certain that this girl most needs.

The movie toggles between Florida and Massachusetts, academia and the courtroom, the seaside and the schoolroom, as it introduces character after character: friends, witnesses, teachers, even Mary's thoroughly absentee father, all of whom are brought to fine life by the various actors engaged in the project. The casting is spot-on -- from Octavia Spencer (above) as Mary and Frank's best friend, to Jenny Slate (below) as Mary's initial school teacher, Elizabeth Marvel as the school's cocky principal, and Glenn Plummer as Frank's eventual attorney.

Ms Spencer, in particular is as wonderful as ever -- so full of feeling, caring and joy that one wonders, once again, why in hell this amazing actress isn't given leading roles rather than performing as support or, at best, in ensembles. Well, someday....

Meanwhile, Gifted goes places expected and un-, and proves surprising enough to keep you hooked. No one's an out-and-out villain (the movie's too smart for that), and the screenplay lets us understand each character's motivations and enough of his/her past to engender some sympathy. Sure, this is pure mainstream entertainment, but it's done with enough skill, intelligence and an acceptance of the world as it is that there'll be no need to feel at all guilty about the pleasure you'll be experiencing.

From Fox Searchlight and running a precise and just-about-right 100 minutes, the movie opened last week in select theaters and will hit the rest of the country this Wednesday, April 12. (Here in South Florida it opens in nearly a dozen locations.) Wherever you are, click here to find your nearest theaters.

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