As soon as Evelyn enters the film, the question hanging over the film is why can there not be a compromise, especially when she and Frank are able to have a civil conversation together. She doesn’t have to languish in elementary school, but she doesn’t have to work for a think tank at the age of eight, either. Instead, Gifted turns into a courtroom drama and elongates what could conceivably be a short. Writer Tom Flynn has a spotty and irregular resume, and maybe in the fifteen years between Gifted and his previous work, some things fell through the cracks.
With the gaping hole at the center of Gifted, it’s impressive that the film’s runtime isn’t spent with the viewer throwing things at the screen, begging characters to sit in a room and rationally solve this solvable problem. Credit for this is spread around to the actors, with Flynn getting a sizable share. Evans is earnest and charming as Captain America, and he’s earnest and charming here, too, but he adds a gentleness that a character who throws a metal shield at goons is never going to have. Grace does a bit of mugging here and there like a bad kid actor, but she also makes great use of her missing front teeth when showing up university professors. Slate can’t help but bring her considerable comedic chops to a dramatic role, and Spencer is reliable if underserved in her tragically usual slot of spunky supporting character who sometimes cries. Duncan is deeply affecting in a role that could easily have been one-note and predictable. She has the hardest job in the film; to make her harsher plans for Mary not turn her into a character out of a Disney fairy tale. Duncan does so, with help from Flynn, by having complex motivations driven by her unplumbed grief about Mary’s mother and complicated by her not-wrong grand goals for her female descendants. If 2017 was the year of critically acclaimed actresses in their 50’s and 60’s giving great maternal performances a la Holly Hunter, Allison Janney, and Laurie Metcalf, Duncan is the overlooked entry on that list.
Gifted is just too warm to let the viewer dwell on its Stubborn Plot for too long. The resolution of Mary’s fate becomes less important than the next scene and how dusty it’s going to make the room. Webb suffered a bad run with his Andrew Garfield Spider-Men movies, and he might be a case of the indie to superhero pipeline springing a leak. He may be best suited to small, deeply-felt, and perceptive films like this one. This is the level at which he should be working with superheroes, albeit actors who also play superheroes. B-