Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gifted (2017)


Gifted reminds me very much of I am Sam. The same basic elements are there: a father, a young girl, and a third party wanting to break them up. The story also plays with the what-if half of the relationship is an outlier; for Gifted it’s the girl as she is boosted to the level of a math prodigy.

What went wrong is that Gifted became overly obsessed with the story’s central conflict and not the family that played out all the arguments. Hence the movie, unlike I am Sam, is emotionally empty.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans)

Frank Adler is the father, well father figure. Mary is his sister’s little girl. He had taken on the job of raising her when Diane, his sister, committed suicide at his own home.


Essentially the story was going for the unprepared father who is at the point of second guessing himself. Chris has the brooding right but that’s not enough, there’s still much of Frank that is to know. 

One scene had Frank fuming mad, explicitly wording that he wanted a life of his own even for 5 minutes. Mary had walked in on him while he had a date. If he longed for social life then it was undersold.

Also given in exposition was that Frank was a professor. He looked every bit the handyman, a freelancer fixing boats before the reveal. Frank didn’t have reading glasses for the stereotypical academic motif. If he missed teaching it was again undersold.

Stoic action hero with body that’s chiseled like a god works for a Marvel movie. Since the script did not tell me the character’s emotional baggage all that Chris Evans managed to sell to me, in his limited way, is that Captain America is having a hard time with domestic life. The beard he’s sporting in this movie I saw on an Infinity War promotional picture.

Ironically mother and son bouncing off each other was what killed the movie. After 7 years Frank’s mother, Evelyn, reappeared and is now interested in custody of Mary because she likes geniuses. They talked about Diane, what she wanted; Mary, what’s best for her or rather who.

Problem is Frank kept referring to his mother as Evelyn. Although Evelyn can get away with calling her son Frank, it’s just weird that Mary is all she talks about. They never got personal. You wouldn’t know the difference if Frank was arguing against the accords or arguing for a normal childhood for Mary.

It was always Evelyn was a bad mother to Diane, when the fact that Frank opposing her taking custody of Mary meant he also thinks Evelyn has been a bad mother to him. If mother and son were ok then Diane would not have mattered. 

He didn’t say as much, not even the word mom when things got heated. Likewise a demanding mother would not mince words regarding her son’s capabilities of raising a child.

The worse scene of all was just after the first court scene. Frank and Evelyn may have never been convincing as mother and son at odds with one another but the fact that it went to court meant both parties have talking to each other. Tension has increased. 

But since they talked and they smiled at each, the tension is deflated. It’s almost as if they are wasting the court and each other’s time.

Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace)

I like McKenna Grace. She has fierce eyes which is good for a know-it-all. You can see this in her first day of school when she was made to do simple addition between numbers 1 to 10. Her math level was at the point of doing square roots in her head. It’s disappointing that she didn’t get to have more scenes.

Frank reasoned that she wanted Mary to learn social skills. Maybe the story could have started from a know-it-all brat to someone with more humility. Or, since Frank and Evelyn always talk of the positives and negatives of being able to raise Mary; perhaps having those arguments play out in Mary’s point of view would be better.


All Mary ever did was always prancing around displaying her genius. I don’t know what she wants besides her cat and I didn’t even get to see Mary when she lost it. 

Everything is about her but she’s treated like a plot device, a means for mother and son to argue.

Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan)

Evelyn started the ball rolling for Gifted.  I think in I am Sam the 3rd party was just Social Welfare; this time it’s an actual blood relative.

I knew where I was in I am Sam. I sympathize that Lucy (Dakota Fanning) wants to be with a mentally challenged father in Sam (Sean Penn). It’s admirable too since the age of the child is when children can be mean with their teasing and name calling. Sticking with Sam, reaching out, is a big deal. But will the law side with a mentally challenged father, so that was interesting.

Gifted has no emotional hook. They talk of gifted child as an abstraction. Mary might as well be in the X-men the way Frank and Evelyn go at it. What to do or not to do with a gifted child. 

Evelyn wanted her buried in books, give her special classes; make sure she’ll reach her full potential. Frank was hiding Mary’s intellectual level at some point because he wanted her to have a childhood and remain grounded. It’s like a hiding a mutant.

It’s no surprise that my favorite scene had the most emotionally loaded statement in the movie. Mary was lost at this point and Frank’s last card was his sister’s paper. 

Diane had already solved a famous math problem of which she and Evelyn had been working on. Her wish is that it be published only after their mother’s death which loosely translates as: ‘mother I love my work, but I hate you enough not to let you see me at my best.’

Given the choice of accepting the mathematical proof or raise a granddaughter who herself may solve a famous math problem of her own one day, Evelyn went for the math. After years of estrangement with her son, losing a daughter, having a taste of a grandchild to play with; all the old woman went after were pieces of paper.

What makes it worse is that in the next sequence, which was also the very last, a middle ground was achieved. Mary was taking special math classes in college as well as studying and playing with kids her own age. Grandmother Evelyn was nowhere. 

The sequence feels like it was out of left field because there was no discussion about it. Plus it was a mean way to end the story.

The Adlers are a family. When Frank made known Diane’s wish for the paper it was the only time Evelyn cried even though the court scenes have always intimated that she was a bad mother; that she may have cause the death of her daughter. The dam has been broken, it was a chance.


The middle ground is an acknowledgement that there’s no right or wrong especially without getting hooked on what Mary’s side is in all this. She does find higher math interesting but she enjoys kids her age and nature trips with Uncle Frank. Still she could use a grandmother.

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