Gifted

What do you get if you take Captain America (Chris Evans), in a movie directed by Spider-Man’s Marc Webb (no pun intended), and have them fight evil villains that try to destroy families?

You don’t have to be gifted to guess that you’d get this movie, which my wife said should be shown on the Hallmark channel.

I have such a love/hate relationship with this film. For example, Webb gave us two terrific scenes with interesting conversation. One of them had father and daughter on the beach at sunset, playing and talking about the existence of God. It felt like a real conversation, and was gently and beautifully shot. Then in another scene, when a couple is talking about something rather touching, the camera is shaking non-stop. In fact, Webb had the camera shaking most of the movie. I’m not sure if he was trying to show people he was making an indie picture, and not just some Nicholas Sparks type movie [side note: Webb made one of the best indie movies of the 21st Century with (500) Days of Summer]. Whatever the reason, stop shaking the damn camera! It was distracting and totally unnecessary. If he makes a Spider-Man 3, and Spidey is swinging from webs between buildings, he can shake the camera to his heart’s content.

Frank (Chris Evans) plays a boat mechanic taking care of his 7-year-old niece Mary (McKenna Grace). He’s forcing her to go to 1st grade for the first time so that she can become a normal child. When the teacher (Jenny Slate, who you should all see in Obvious Child) realizes Mary’s a genius, they try to convince Frank to send her to a school for gifted children. In one of the handful of contrivances that doesn’t make a lot of sense, Frank is against this but, it’s not like she’s not being put in a college with adults. It’s a school with kids her age, so she’d conceivably have a normal childhood and also receive the proper education.

In my pet peeve list, at #14 for school films, a bully that is beat up doesn’t get into trouble. It’s the person that stood up to the bully that does. Of course, that’s Mary. That little incident leads her to being on the radar of her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan). She now shows up, after not being in her life, determined to put her in a better school and take custody. Remember how Lindsay Duncan, as a theatre critic in Birdman, scared Michael Keaton so bad that he shot himself on stage? Well, in this she’s almost as evil. They make her character a little too one-dimensional and mean. It would’ve been a much more interesting film if the deck wasn’t so stacked against her. That being said, they do give her some good lines and a touch of humanity. When she talks about a husband leaving her because of a mid-life crisis…it’s when he was 70. When she explains how much easier it would’ve been if he just had an affair with a 25-year-old cocktail waitress instead of buying a 1,000 acre ranch, she finishes it off with, “I call him the man who shot Liberty Mutual.”

It’s also refreshing that when she does talk with Frank, they’re not screaming at each other. They’re being surprisingly civil, and even make decent points in their respective favor.

Octavia Spencer, who is now doing her second math genius movie in a row, is always a welcome sight. She has a few funny lines (“You couldn’t even get a white lawyer!”). The problem is…we don’t know enough about her character. And it seems like a step backwards to have her play the sassy neighbor that’s always right there at Frank’s side. There’s a scene with her in a hospital that is so schmaltzy and bad, your eyes will roll to the back of your head.

The audience at the screening where I saw this, loved every second of it. And I have to admit, I laughed and I cried. The actors were all so good. Evans plays the uncle as a sensitive, reasonable man. He drinks in a bar and doesn’t punch people out like Casey Affleck in Manchester. Instead, he tries to sleep with Mary’s teacher (but not in a creepy way, but a rom-com way). The grandmother has a terrific courtroom scene. Even the lawyers and judge in those scenes, all seemed realistic and had a few interactions that were Aaron Sorkinesque.

McKenna Grace, who played it a bit snotty in Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy) is brilliant in this. She can be snotty, adorable, funny, and it’s so authentic. One of my pet peeves in movies like this is precociousness to the point of annoyance. That’s not the case here. When she starts crying, you’ll start bawling. It reminded me of another blonde that was around that age that brought me to tears in a movie — Ricky Schroeder from The Champ. This movie also borrowed a few things from The Champ, as well as the obvious — Good Will Hunting. Although, if you’re going to show a math prodigy, what else can you do but have them write long equations on a chalkboard while old white college professors stroke their beards in amazement.

The “borrowing” that writer Tom Flynn did that really irked me is from Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s not because of the custody battle scenes. This movie had other specific scenes lifted. For example, in court having it come out that the uncle had a better, higher paying job at one point; or the woman that wasn’t in the picture that now wants to have custody. There’s also the child walking in on her dad with a naked woman walking through the house in the morning.

This movie should have to give a writing credit to Avery Corman, who wrote Kramer vs. Kramer (as well as Oh, God).

This movie is good for the whole family, and audiences are going to love it. Younger generations won’t notice all the things that have been cribbed from the older (and better) movies.

It was enjoyable enough, but certainly audiences will like it more than the critics.

This gets 2 ½ stars out of 5.

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