3 years since he directed the sorely disappointing blockbuster behemoth The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and filmmaker Marc Webb is back behind the camera once again, returning to his 500 Days of Summer indie roots for Gifted.

The film opens to an exchange between Frank (Chris Evans) and 7-year-old Mary (McKenna Grace) - who we later find out is Frank's niece; he has been her caretaker for most of her life, ever since her mother passed away. In the hopes of leading a normal life, Frank sends Mary to a normal school to be a normal first-grader. But his plans are quickly foiled when the child prodigy's teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), discovers that Mary is a gifted youngster and a mathematical genius. When her grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), gets a whiff of her granddaughter's potential, she turns up to Frank's house, threatening to take the child away from Frank - who she believes isn't letting Mary blossom to her full potential. Soon, a court case begins as everyone starts fighting over what they believe is best for the gifted child and emotions and relations are tested as the custody battle for Mary ensues.
Gifted has a fairly simplistic premise and it's this notion in which the film thrives; this is a very simple film with one clear, concise story and it's never bogged down by unnecessary subplots and exposition. This is a story about a gifted child and those that want the best for her against those that want to exploit her intelligence. It's also a fairly conventional genre story and, whilst the film can feel a little paint-by-numbers and predictable at times, falling into cliches and tropes we'd expect with a film of this nature, it just feels so refreshing to see such a simple, cohesive narrative - often a rarity in films these days. Marc Webb - who's last film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, was haunted by said over-convoluted and sprawling screenplay - opts for the "less is more" approach here. The direction is brilliant, with Webb using gentle editing and long, lingering takes to really let the actors and the dialogue do their work and drive the film. It's beautifully shot too, with some gorgeous cinematography - a sunset shot in which Evans and Grace share a moment is a particular spectacle highlight. Whilst the narrative may feel quite formulaic and conventional, this is perhaps because the screenplay - penned by Tom Flynn - chooses to keep the story fairly simple and minimal, thus embraces said cliches. And again, whilst this perhaps weighs down on the first act, it's forgivable because Flynn lets the well-realised, relatable characters and the riveting dialogue hold us rather than the originality or complexity of where the story is going.

Where Gifted shines is in its characters and its heart; this is such a real and genuine story and these characters feel so authentic and genuine too. We find ourselves invested in their stories, in the relationship between Frank and Mary, between Frank and Evelyn, between Mary and Roberta (Octavia Spencer) and so on and so forth. This is because the screenplay crafts them as such real, relatable people: they're all flawed. The acting is astounding across the board and everyone turns in some great, emotionally charged performances but this is Chris Evans and McKennna Grace's film and the pair shine as Frank and his niece Mary, respectively. They have such a sweet, believable chemistry that it's easy to believe and care for them and their story and it adds so much more emotion and heart to the proceedings. Whilst Evans is great as Captain America, it's more nuanced and compelling performances like this that show just how great an actor the Marvel star really is - he brings so much warmth and charisma to the character, beyond what most actors could have. Grace is a star in the making and, aged only 9, she matches Evans blow-for-blow as the charming and adorable Mary - unlike most children in films, there's a maturity and subtlety to her performance that makes her stand out.
What Marc Webb and Tom Flynn have crafted with Gifted is such an effervescent affair. This is a story that, whilst never groundbreaking for its originality, makes for some terrific viewing. The second act really cranks things up a notch when the film goes to court for the custody case; with some of the film's most intense and most riveting scenes coming from there. The flaws to be found within the film are, again, the formulaic nature of the story and the fact that this weighs and slows down the first act a little but, aside from that, it's hard to fault Gifted. This a compelling and touching film that is packed with as much heart and humour as it is charm and emotion; this a film that will leave you with a big, joyous smile on your face but also a tear in your eye. And that's the highest praise I can give it. It's a nice return to form for Marc Webb, more in-line with his charmer 500 Days of Summer than any of those Amazing Spider-Man films and Chris Evans once again continues to show that he really is one of the most likeable and charismatic dudes ever.

VERDICT:

Gifted is an effervescent, if conventional, affair; a touching and beautiful film that will leave you with a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.



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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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