The thought at the forefront of my mind while watching Gifted was that I had seen this film before. Sure, I may have never seen Gifted (2017, dir. Marc Webb) until Thursday, July 6th, 2017. But every story beat, every plot “twist?” Those, I had definitely seen before. All its flaws – hell, even the parts of it I liked – felt familiar.
At one point, about twenty minutes into the film, I started writing out predictions for the remainder of the film. I wish I could attach an image of the notes I was taking, but the contain too many spoilers. Calling them spoilers may be generous, though. Having seen Alvin and the Chipmunks at the age of nine, and many similar films since, the plot structure was easy enough to predict based off the premise alone.
Here, let me outline the basics of the plot for you. Frank Adler (Chris Evans) lives with his niece, the child genius Mary Adler (McKenna Grace) in Florida. After Mary’s mother committed suicide, Frank moved Mary to Florida in the hopes that she would be able to have a normal life, away from the overbearing pressures of their family and society. But when Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), Mary’s grandmother, sues for custody, things take a turn for the worst. I’m sure that sounds familiar.
Fortunately for the film, being derivative is one of only two major problems. Despite the overbearing sense of familiarity, I somewhat enjoyed my time with Gifted. There are lapses in the script, but for the most part it’s solid, and the performances are varying degrees of good across the board.
Unfortunately, this is a segue into Gifted’s second major issue. The script spreads itself a little too thin. The cast isn’t exactly large, but there simply isn’t enough time for all the relationships to be fleshed out in full.
At the core of the film, of course, is the relationship between Frank and Mary. The two performers have remarkable chemistry, selling every scene they share. This is incredibly fortunate, as they have the most screen time by far. Past that, the remaining relationships feel a little lacking.
For instance, Mary’s first grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) plays a fairly major role in the film. She shares multiple scenes with Evans (I’ll let you guess where that goes), and there is chemistry there. The performances are strong, as are the lines they deliver. And yet, I never felt fully invested in their burgeoning relationship. It simply isn’t allowed to develop past the surface level.
The same is true of Roberta (Octavia Spencer), the Adlers’ neighbor. She, too, plays a significant role in the lives of Frank and Mary. But much like Bonnie, she is relegated to the sideline. Of course, this is the fate of supporting characters. But she could have at least had a character arc – something to demonstrate that the events of the film changed her.
Instead, Roberta and Bonnie serve only as accessories to Frank’s arc. The remaining members of the supporting cast – Frank’s lawyer, Greg (Glenn Plummer), and his mother Evelyn don’t get the screen time they deserve. Also, worth noting is that most of the supporting characters are women, who are almost entirely shortchanged by this film. The female characters all slot perfectly into an archetype, which constrains their development as characters immensely. It also contributes to the overall feeling that the film isn’t exactly doing anything new.
I’m not here to play armchair film maker, but there are scenes that feel like deadweight. The minutes spent there could have been better used to develop characters and relationships.
Ultimately, the result is a movie that feels a little hollow. Major emotional moments are supplemented almost entirely by music, rather than dialogue or the performances. The visual language is painfully blunt, as if subtlety was discarded entirely. Gifted feels purpose built so that everyone would “get” it.
It succeeds at that, at the very least. The film tells a harmless, inoffensive story. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything else to it. Your mileage could vary depending on how familiar you are with its plot structure. Even then, feeling strongly one way or the other seems difficult. Evoking a passionate response is not something this film is particularly good at doing.
Gifted is a competent, semi-engaging way to spend an hour and forty minutes. But with less frustrating movies hitting theaters, digital, and home release at a consistent pace, this one certainly should not be prioritized.