CAPSULE: This is something of a re-working of the aphorism, "It's nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice." Bachelor Frank Adler is raising Mary, a seven-year-old who is a great child prodigy. Mary's school finds out they have a genius in their first grade, and they want to teach the girl to fully develop her skills. Frank resists, wanting instead to give Mary (his niece) a normal school experience. Frank's mother enters the argument on the side of the school. The issue comes down to whether special students need to get special attention to make the most of their talents. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
If a child shows great potential to be highly intelligent, should her intelligence be specially nurtured into making her a leader or should she be treated like any other child and raised to be "normal?"
Director Marc Webb gives us a story of a seven-year-old girl who has the mathematics ability of at least a graduate student. Mary (winningly played by eleven-year-old Mckenna Grace) is one such gifted child. Her grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) wants to give the child special schooling and training. Mary's uncle and guardian, Frank (Chris Evans who in other films plays Captain America), wants Mary treated as much as possible like any of her peers. Her grandmother thinks that not developing that child into a world-beating genius would be the worst kind of negligence. The disagreement comes to a court trial and a custody battle.
Nominally the main character is Chris Evans, but eleven-year-old Mckenna Grace grabs our attention whenever she is on-screen. She has a surprising control of her facial expression. This season she also is feature as a young Tanya Harding in I, TONYA. Another expressive face is Octavia Spencer (of HIDDEN FIGURES) as Mary's next-door neighbor. I am not sure exactly what she is doing in this movie unless to demonstrate that there are people who like Mary in spite of her differences in mentality. Lindsay Duncan plays Evelyn Adler, the grandmother who is convinced she should force Mary into studying mathematics.
The film lets the viewer decide who is right in the issue of Mary's education, but they do put a heavy thumb on the judgment scale. We have seen Pinocchio and "Star Trek"'s Data really want to become like us real humans. The best thing to be is a real live normal person. Tom Flynn, who wrote the screenplay, makes the two people who know mathematics stiff and dehumanized. (I can tell you from my days in contact with some very good mathematicians that many mathematicians are people who spend their careers following their curiosity (mathematical or otherwise) are usually more closely in touch with their humanity than nearly anyone else.
In the final analysis I would say that there are few enough truly gifted students that society can well afford to cultivate these few. Everyone will benefit by giving these people the choice to make very real contributions. And the film's implicit implication that the truly gifted will be dehumanized is a straw bogyman. I rate GIFTED a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. One touch I do appreciate is that mathematics on the blackboard looks like the real thing.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4481414/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/gifted_2017
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper