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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gifted may revolve around a second-grader, but it deals with serious issues, including suicide and parental abandonment, that make it more appropriate for older tweens and up. There's some kissing, and a couple is shown in bed, under a blanket (it's implied that they had sex together). A couple drinks shots while hanging out together, and there's some swearing (including "s--t," said by a child and one use of "f--k") and overtones of violence (a second-grader, defending a classmate who's being bullied, hits another kid and draws blood). But the message that there's more to life than being smart is a worthy one, and courage is a clear theme. Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, and Jenny Slate co-star.
What's the story?
GIFTED Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) has always been homeschooled by her devoted but beleaguered uncle, Frank Adler (Chris Evans). A former philosophy professor, Frank now makes a pseudo-living fixing boats while he raises Mary, a second-grader who's fascinated with differential equations and anything to do with advanced mathematics. But then he decides she needs to start making friends her own age and attending a regular school. Within a day, it's clear the elementary school in their Florida town is far from adequate, after Mary's teacher (Jenny Slate) intuits that her new student is far more advanced than her peers. Frank is told about a chance for Mary to attend a school for gifted kids, which he turns down. This prompts further interventions, which occasion the arrival of Frank's mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). Evelyn is a mathematician herself, and she helped nurture Frank's sister's monumental academic gifts; sadly, Mary's mom died when she was in her early 20s, shortly after giving birth to Mary. Evelyn thinks Mary belongs with her and shouldn't be raised by her wayward son; Frank wants to raise Mary like any other kid (albeit one whose best friend is their landlady next door (Octavia Spencer). Who will prevail in court?
Is it any good?
This drama isn't what you'd call groundbreaking or memorable, but, thanks to its two leads -- Evans and young Grace -- it's more appealing than it really deserves to be. Grace is masterful, displaying the kind of nuance and depth of emotion that older, more seasoned actors do. Her Mary is far from a caricature, a young girl who's still pining for the love and presence of her parents and the simple pleasures of hanging out with her cat but is easily bored with any math that doesn't require a Ph.D. To watch her and Evans (and, in some scenes, Spencer) is to witness a future award-winning actress in the making.
It's a pity the messy script doesn't live up Grace's her gifts. For a film with a custody case at the heart of its plot, Gifted is surprisingly inert. The takeaways about gifted children are well-trodden, the plot twists hardly twisty. The dialogue gives "surprises" away, and Slate and Spencer are wasted in underwritten roles. There are profound moments, especially in places where Evans and Duncan do battle out of court as mother and son, but there aren't enough of them to make Gifted, well, gifted.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Gifted deals with weighty topics like suicide and parental abandonment. Does the movie address these issues sensitively?
How is bullying handled in the movie? What are some real-life options for dealing with bullies in a constructive way?
How does the movie deal with the idea of giftedness? Is it presented as a burden or as an opportunity? How do kids perceive it in their classmates? How is it received by different people?
Talk to kids about how the movie depicts sex -- though it's not central to the story, a few scenes try to address the ways a child might become aware of her guardian's social/romantic life.
- In theaters: April 7, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: July 25, 2017
- Cast: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, McKenna Grace
- Director: Marc Webb
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, language and some suggestive material
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