As time marches on, it’s getting harder and harder to sell cheesy overtly sentimental films to the American public and not appear disingenuous. Gifted, from director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man) is as cheesy, sentimental, ridiculous, implausible, and illogical as a movie could be, but one made with utmost sincerity. Here is the rare film that embraces its melodrama in an era when contemporary directors appear to have a condescending attitude towards the genre. Webb admirably embraces his melodrama and shamelessly directs off the charts insane scenes supporting an outlandish plot. And it all somehow works, and made me smile watching it unfold. What more could you want?
Gifted is about Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), an extremely mathematically talented seven-year-old. Her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has raised her nearly her whole life in a small Florida town following the death of her mother. Private schools offer Mary scholarships due to her incredible intellect, and this is where the drama truly begins. Here’s the thing, you see: you can’t learn all about life from simply reading books. At least, that’s according to Frank, a rugged motorboat repairman, who thus refuses the various scholarships and sends Mary to the local public school.
Meanwhile, Mary’s estranged grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) has been searching for the prodigy. She wants custody of Mary, and train her in mathematics to compute and solve one of the yet unsolved Millilumen Prize Problems. Evelyn’s devious ambitions drives her to challenge Frank in civil court and win the custody of Mary, who we learn is technically not the child’s legal guardian. The battle is long and hard, as in expected of these types of films, with the well-intentioned Frank giving his all to protect Mary from the clutches of the exploitive grandmother.
But even these events never become too dark and dreary. Instead, the proceedings are mostly fun and filled with gentle humor that’s played out nicely with its main conflict and other little fun subplots and various characters supporting this charming little movie.
Gifted embellishes its scenes, and I admired how unabashedly cheesy and corny they come across, but also clever and well-constructed. Marc Webb maintains a simple classical Hollywood directorial style, yet always finds a way to sneak in a bit of poetry in each shot. One such scene lasts a full three-minutes, a long shot with Frank and Mary silhouetted during sunset at a beach. Now that is a risky scene to shoot and show to audiences in a movie that will surely be criticized by others for not taking chances.
Consider the risk of having an uninterrupted long take when the average shot in contemporary movies is roughly four seconds. Here, our characters are entirely blacked out, and the movie even has the audacity to contain dialogue begging you to take out tissues and wipe your tears away.
But not all scenes are long takes and the editing by Bill Pankow is fantastic. His work is crisp as he precisely cuts each shot into the next. He begins and ends his shots at just the right note, especially in the comedic back and fourths. Notice how well the beginning of each cut emphases the actor’s reaction to the previous shot. Again, very classic Hollywood and I am sure his actors are very pleased with him because he has cut the best performances out of all involved.
All that praise aside, Gifted isn’t a must-see and is by no means a classic melodrama. However, if you’re looking for an easy and fun time at the movies for adults and kids alike, here’s one to embrace. Also, it’s a pretty good melodrama, a genre that’s often misunderstood and mishandled these days, proving such films can still be made well in today’s cynical world. Gifted is a charming little film, one reminiscent of a time when the Hollywood of old was proud of such good-hearted productions.