Maths genius story adds up
It’s a brave actor who chooses to share the screen with a little girl who’s missing her front teeth and a one-eyed ginger moggy. And the actor in Gifted is Cap himself, Chris Evans – except that this time he’s anything but a superhero. Apart from the way he handles his two co-stars.
He’s Frank, uncle to Mary (McKenna Grace), a seven year old with a prodigious gift for maths. She’s years ahead of children of her age and he’s been home schooling her until he decides it’s time she mixed with children of her own age and sends her off to school. Her teacher spots her talent and encourages him to send her to a school for gifted children, but he’s determined not to. Then grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) steps in and a battle ensues for Mary’s custody – a bitter one, because mother and son have never got on. They eventually hit on a compromise – and it’s one that suits nobody.
Maths is cool. Hidden Figures taught us that and we’re being shown it again, but this time through the eyes of a seven year old. And Mary is quite a girl. Home schooling means she has no friends of her own age and her social graces are minimal, so she struggles at school to begin with. Firstly, because she’s way ahead of what they’re trying to teach her and secondly because she’s not used other kids. Maths also runs in the family: her late mother was something of a genius and so was Evelyn in her day. Uncle Frank was more into philosophy and, before Mary came to live with him, was a university professor in Boston. Now he repairs boats in Florida and they live in a shabby apartment, under the watchful eye of landlady, friend and surrogate mother Roberta (Octavia Spencer) who is fiercely protective of both of them, especially the little girl. It’s not what grandmother Evelyn wants for Mary but when it comes to a supportive, loving home life, the child lacks for nothing.
On the face of it, this could be a barrel load of schmaltz. But huge credit goes to director Marc Webb and writer Tom Flynn for never venturing anywhere near the sentimental, instead getting performances from the cast that are believable, funny and likeable. It’s not afraid to show their failings either and everybody in the film gets it wrong at some point: Frank has a terrible habit of doing it all too frequently and yes, even cute little Mary does it as well. Beneath all that intelligence, she’s still a seven year old, with all that goes with it. There’s a decent supply of comedy as well and, thankfully, she’s not the only one that provides it. That would have been too easy.
But, for all its charm and good performances, Gifted could struggle to find an audience, despite Chris Evans following Tom Hardy on Jackanory in a pre-release piece of marketing. Nice fit. But the film’s opening date is a strange one for a 12A audience. There’s no half term this week, no holiday of any sort and, despite a wide distribution, it could be a difficult sell. A trailer that makes it look more mom and apple pie than it is doesn’t help. That said, it’s currently the highest grossing indie film in the US, having taken over $24 million since its launch in early April. Clearly, there’s a taste for it over there and, if Fox can persuade Brits to see it, they’ll enjoy it for a whole host of reasons: if nothing else, it’s a welcome and compassionate distraction from current events. Not be an easy job, but worthwhile for a film that most definitely deserves an audience.
Gifted is released in cinemas on Friday, 16th June.