“Gifted” is a Lovely Surprise

The actor Chris Evans superbly inhabits the role of his young lifetime as a caretaker uncle of a child prodigy in Mark Webb’s moving melodrama Gifted (B+). It’s easy to dismiss the film as Good Will Hunting: Junior Edition, Kramer vs. Kramer: Special Girl Genius Unit or even what happens next if Manchester by the Sea were just a wee bit less melancholy; but under Webb’s assured direction, the drama about whether Evans is the right person to rear a precocious first grader (solid child actor Mckenna Grace) plays out with freshness and even some third act surprises. Evans’ character, the beach bum brother of a deceased math genius, shines in his role opposite Grace, and the bond they create is indelible. The cast is roundly excellent, from Jenny Slate as a quirky teacher to Octavia Spencer as a supportive neighbor and maternal figure. But it is great stage actress Lindsay Duncan (last seen as the acerbic critic in Birdman) who steals her scenes as the controlling grandmother whose dreams of solving the great mathematical challenges of our era fall on her pint-sized progeny. You can see much of the conflict coming from a mile away, and yet the characters are real, the dialogue crisp and the tearjerking earned. It’s ultimately an uplifting tale of the sacrifices one makes for family. It’s a smart film about smart people and should enrich those who discover it.

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