dir Marc Webb
scr Tom Flynn
prd Andy Cohen, Karen Lunder
with Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, John M Jackson, Jon Sklaroff, Julie Ann Emery, Michael Kendall Kaplan
release US 7.Apr.17, UK 16.Jun.17
17/US Fox 1h41
Just be a kid: Grace and Evans

spencer duncan slate
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Gifted As a filmmaker, Mark Webb has an uncanny ability to build emotions without tipping over into sentimentality. In this case, he turns what could be a soapy melodrama into an intriguing, realistic story about parents and children. Surprising angles and complex characters make this much more involving than expected, even as it pushes the buttons to coax tears out of our eyes.

In rural Florida, Frank (Evans) has raised his 6-year-old niece Mary (Grace) since infancy, after his sister committed suicide. Mary is clearly a maths prodigy like her mother, but Frank is determined to give her a normal childhood, adopting a one-eyed cat named Fred and enrolling her in public school, where her teacher Bonnie (Slate) immediately spots her gift. But this alerts Frank's mother Evelyn (Duncan), another maths whiz who takes an interest in Mary for the first time, demanding custody so she can exploit Mary's abilities in the nation's finest schools.

Cleverly, Flynn's script avoids the usual genre pitfalls to focus on the characters and their evolving interaction. There are elements of a courtroom drama here, plus the stirrings of a child-custody battle and rather a lot of mathematical formulas scribbled on notepads and whiteboards, but none of these things ever steals focus from the human element. And the filmmakers further resist the temptation to turn characters into heroes and villains: everyone here is just doing the best he or she can.

Evans gives one of his strongest performances yet as a shattered man who has raised this little girl with a striking honesty. His interaction with Grace bristles with intelligence and security. And Grace is a remarkable young actress who conveys Mary's wide range of sparky emotions impeccably. As a neighbour, the third member of their makeshift family, Spencer provides the film with some unexpected snap. And Duncan gives Evelyn an earthy authenticity, allowing us to understand her motivations, misguided as they may be.

There are some late plot points that feel tidy, especially as details of this family's back-story fall into place. A gentle romantic subplot is rather convenient. And some key figures in the story, such as Mary's absent father, vanish inexplicably. Instead, the film's strength lies in the way it connects these disparate people in messy, sometimes difficult, but essentially unbreakable relationships. And it's always refreshing to be reminded that we need to respect each other, understanding the difference between someone else's needs and our own.

cert 15 themes, language 22.May.17

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Gifted Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall