At one point in Gifted, a principal demands to know what Chris Evans’ character hopes to accomplish by continuing to send his precocious math prodigy foster child, his niece, to a podunk public school, rather than the fancy academy where he’s just been offered a scholarship. Evans’ characters shrugs and says “Maybe I’m just trying to dumb her down enough to be a decent human being.”
It’s not Gifted‘s best line, but it’s an accurate description of what I felt like was happening to me when I watched it. It’s pure schmaltz, where the biggest conflict is over whether the wise-beyond-her-years little girl who also happens to be a super genius will have to live with her loving, preternaturally understanding handsome hunkle (Evans) or her slightly less loving, super rich math whiz grandmother (Lindsay Duncan). It totally worked on me, and I love it when that happens. It makes me feel like part of the human condition for a change, and not some snarkbot 3000 sent from space to terraform Earth with relentless dismissive wanking. This sucks, meep morp. Moreover, it makes me leave thinking “See? Movies aren’t that hard,” full of hope for the future.
Gifted is basically what a Nicholas Sparks movie might look like if Nicholas Sparks wasn’t such an asshole. It has most of the same ingredients: hunky guy (Frank Adler, played by Chris Evans), precocious child (Mary Adler, played by McKenna Grace), relatable love interest (Mary’s teacher Bonnie, played by Jenny Slate), wisdom-dispensin’ black neighbor (Octavia Spencer), and lots of sleepy, sun-drenched coastal Southern scenery, in this case Florida as shot by director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, (500) Days of Summer). There’s even a tragic past, a turning-down-a-scholarship-plot (you may not know Nicholas Sparks clichés as well as I do, but the dude is weirdly obsessed with people turning down obscure scholarships) and a one-eyed orange cat named Fred — whom the story wisely leans into. I’ll be honest, I loved Fred.