Friday, 23 June 2017

Review: Gifted

Cert: 12A / 101 mins / Dir. Marc Webb / Trailer

My local cinema hosted an advance screening of Marc Webb's new movie last week. I was due to go, but plans shifted so that I delayed watching a heartwarming, uplifting tale of sacrifice, perseverance and belief in favour of seeing an old friend and getting blind drunk instead. This decision-making process should indicate that I'm not really the target audience for Gifted, and the rest of this review should be translated accordingly.

In the blue-collar coastal suburbs of Florida, Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is the adoptive uncle of orphaned mathematical prodigy Mary (Mckenna Grace), struggling with moving her from homeschooling to mainstream education in a bid to build her social skills and let her enjoy her childhood. But a regular school offers no intellectual challenges, only behavioural ones, and the child's grandmother has other plans for Mary's development...

What begins as an ochre-washed, ukulele driven twee-fest to rival the best of Nicholas Sparks*1, goes through the motions of sighs, tears, revelations, pacing of the courtroom floor, the swelling of the strings-section and hugs before bedtime. The film is efficiently executed, but lacks inspiration all round. Credit where it's due, the central performances by Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans are very strong. They're excellent individually, and the pair have a chemistry in their scenes together which defines the heart of the film. And Gifted does have a heart, it just expresses that through the medium of Hallmark Channel Autopilot™.

As Octavia Spencer's over-protective neighbour, Jenny Slate's wet-blanket of a teacher and Linsday Duncan's meddling grandmother-character dutifully tick off the boxes on their Plot Device Checklist, the problem soon arises that the more secondary/ancillary characters are introduced, the more irreversibly clichéd the while thing becomes. The film sags terribly at around the half-way mark and never manages to regain its composure. Even a shoehorned sequence of 'will Frank make the drive across town before they put the cat to sleep?'*2, is so phoned-in that by the time our hero breathlessly arrives in the vet's backroom murder-chamber, Ginger Fred's basically sitting filing his claws murmuring "Oh, you're here, then?". It's a safe play in a script that was never going to take any risks in the first place.

Also, this loses a point for Frank using 'Legos' as a collective term for pieces of the popular branded construction-set. And if the kid had been as bright as the screenplay makes out, she'd have thoroughly schooled him over that one. Legos. I ask you.

I understand why Evans wanted to do Gifted, of course, and as he's one of the two great things about the movie it's another string to his bow. But as not-inconsiderable as that bow is, the string itself is thoroughly unremarkable…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Something like Me Before You, probably.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
No, this is made for skipping past on a weekday afternoon when you're looking for something to watch.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Oh, probably.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Well it's the star of The First Avenger and director of Amazing Spider-Man 2, SO HOW ABOUT NO?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not one jot.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not one.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: TC-14's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Full disclosure, I'm generalising there. I've never watched any Nicholas Sparks output. Seen plenty of trailers, haven't had the strength to attempt the films themselves though. I seem to recall seeing the promo-reel for The Longest Ride and thinking 'but this looks exactly the same as every other story he's written?'. Then it occurred to me that the target demographic for these movies probably has that precise reaction while I'm two rows away squealing over the latest Marvel trailer, so fair play I suppose... [ BACK ]

*2 Spoiler: of course he does. Although I'd be interested to see one of these flicks where he doesn't. Where the wheels basically fall off everything at the end of Act III, and the final scene features the mentor character talking to their young charge, saying "Yeah, that's life I'm afraid. An unending torrent of inconvenience, loss and pain where everything drifts toward entropy until you're too tired to fight and too numb to care. But hey, there's always bourbon. Whiskey for me, biscuits for you; you're only eight.", then the beaten-car drives off into a sunset while the camera tracks over to a dude wearing a 'the end is nigh' sandwich board and the gun poorly concealed in the pocket of his dirty coat...
And that's why they keep returning my screenplays. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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