May 4, 2017
By Gabriela Thur de Koos
Gifted features McKenna Grace as Mary and Chris Evans as Frank in this family drama about the struggles of deciding what is best for your child. Mary, a 7-year old genius is currently enrolled in her town’s local elementary school in 2nd grade. Her uncle, Frank, has been her guardian since her mother died 6 years earlier. Frank stands by raising Mary around other normal children in order to help her establish proper social skills and to enjoy her childhood like any other kid. He wants Mary to feel like a human being who has friends and learns to enjoy other parts of life besides mathematics. However, Mary’s grandmother Evelyn feels that Frank is denying her potential to be a brilliant mathematician by leaving Mary in a school environment that deprives her of intellectual stimulus. As a result, a custody battle ensues between Frank and Evelyn over deciding what is the best for this young girl with a brilliant mind.
I’ll be honest. I cried. Directed by Marc Webb who also did (500) Days of Summer, I don’t know why I didn’t immediately expect to cry but Gifted is funny, grounded, and heartwarming. I think the movie does a great job of keeping the focus on Frank and Mary. Chris Evans and McKenna Grace have an excellent family dynamic and you’re rooting for Frank the entire time. You like Frank but at the same time you can see where his mother and others stand as well. There is no black and white issue that makes the entire movie predictable; rather, Gifted is a beautiful, simple family drama meant to tug at the heartstrings with an issue that sparks discussion.
Minor Spoilers ahead
As I said before, the movie presents an argument that you can understand both sides too. Prior to watching this, I probably would have stood with Mary’s teacher and her mother without a second thought. But Frank makes you think about the child herself not simply what brilliance she could bestow upon humanity with the proper grooming. Mary’s a genius, yes, and yes, with that fiery personality and compassion she is destined to be a leader. But Frank places the question of what should we value more- being brilliant enough to change the world or being human enough to properly live in it. He wants her to live her life with friends and Girl Scouts and everything else a child should do. He also wants her to understand those around her enough to properly lead them when the time comes. If she’s groomed to excellence in top notch schools and private tutors but has never experienced the life of an average person how is she supposed to be compassionate, humble, and truly understanding of what a privilege it is to have that brilliant mind of hers?
“If we keep separating our leaders from [the rest], we get politicians.”
Let me give you some historical evidence of Frank’s point. President Theodore Roosevelt had a calvary of fighters during the Spanish-American War called the Rough Riders. Though he was their leader, he stood and fought with his men as their equal. He made sure to present the image that he was in charge but he was also one of his men. This sounds irrelevant but it’s simply proof of what Frank means when he says that brilliance without humility and compassion leads to “congressmen”- those who believe their intelligence dictates understanding and therefore qualifies them to make ill-informed decisions without the needs of the people at the forefront.
“You’re going to take that girl. You’re going to loan her out to some think tank where she can talk non-trivial zeroes with a bunch of old Russian guys for the rest of her life. “
On the other hand, Evelyn presents the side that many others would take. She believes that Frank is denying her of her potential and regular school cannot possibly come near to challenging her intellectually and that is the whole point of an education. Perhaps Evelyn is a little extreme in jumping the gun with Mary’s going to solve an insane mathematical theorem when she’s older but she is thinking like the majority of people with brilliant children. Mary could be resentful if she is forced to be in a school that bores her out of her mind every single day and Frank means well but she needs to have the intellectual stimulus that she deserves. Which is why I wholeheartedly agree with the middle ground achieved at the end of the move- Mary goes to a higher-learning school but participates in Girl Scouts, goes to the park, and has friends who are like any other child. Perhaps Frank and Evelyn are two different extremes of this argument but it’s understandable considering they’re just trying to do the best by Mary.