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Funny, Charming, Eye-opening

Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Runtime: 101 minutes
Our Rating:
Directed by: Mark Webb
Cast: Chris Evans, Mekenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Review by Diana Saenger


Adding a brilliant child prodigy to a movie can be an interesting, entertaining, and surprising element. This is the case for Fox Searchlight’s movie Gifted. Frank Adler (Chris Evans) finds himself in a serious situation when his sister passes away and wants him to raise her seven-year-old daughter Mary (Mckenna Grace).

Frank is a hard-working man who adores his niece and realizes from an important legal document his sister left behind gives him little choice then to raise Mary. She loves Frank and is happy to be with him, however she is far beyond most children her age and that becomes a problem. At school Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), begins asking her students simple questions about math with expectations some will answer, others won’t. From her first day in class Mary’s annoyed some of the kids don’t respond; so she blurts out the answer.


Evans, Grace

The teacher is frustrated because every question she asks, Mary sarcastically answers it. The teacher begins to ask tougher questions one that even she can’t answer; but Mary can in just a few minutes. The shock is evident on the teachers’ face.

Reports get back to Frank and he tries to make Mary ease back on her mental capacities and fit in with the others. This causes struggles between her and Frank. Luckily, one of their neighbors is Roberta (Octavia Spencer), a landlady who enjoys helping, and now getting to know Mary. She adores Roberta. They laugh, they like the same things and wow can they sing together like pros.

Spencer, Grace, Evans

Of course when things are too smooth another door usually shuts. In this case it’s Frank’s mother (Lindsay Duncan), and Mary’s grandmother who somewhat looks down on Frank and the way he lives. She’s decided she is a better guardian because she’s wealthy and can make a better life for Mary.

Frank okays visits with grandmother who takes Mary to expensive stores to buy her cloths or anything Mary wants hopping she will stay with her. Mary enjoys being with her grandmother but still wants to live with Frank and her cat with one eye.

At one point Frank spends a little time with Mary’s teacher, Bonnie, and shares what’s going on. Bonnie adores Mary and gives Frank suggestions about what he can do, and what might not be good for Mary. Frank listens to Bonnie, as they have become good friends, but deep down there’s a little doubt in his heart that maybe he isn’t giving Mary all she deserves, and maybe her grandmother could. A big decision results and all those connected with Mary’s life instantly changes. Now Frank must deal with his decision and wonder if it was right.

Marc Webb, 500 Days of Summer, and The Amazing Spider-Man, liked the script by Tom Flynn and decided to direct the movie. Between the two of them they had all the right elements in the right place to infuse this film with, joy, mystery, insight and most of all a big attraction for a young girl who filmed this movie when she was eight-years- old. As an amazing actress Mckenna Grace has a long career ahead of her. Those of us who got to interview the cast compared Mckenna to Dakota Fanning daring her first years as an actress.

The cast in this movie is exceptional. Chris Evans, known to most of the world as Capt. America, does an amazing job as a new parent to Mary. He’s thoughtful, thinks about her and what’s best for her all the time, shares the love of her cat, and has great charisma with her.

Asked about how good she is in school Mckenna replied, “I’m in fifth grade, but I do sixth grade math.”

“My saying yes to this movie is because of Mark Webb; he is a wonderful director.” Chris said. “It’s a Hollywood saying don’t be in movies with animals and kids. I think they mean more don’t try to direct animals and kids, so that was not my responsibility. When we found Mckenna we knew we were off and going. We had a lot of time to rehearse. And with McKenna’s level of maturity; she really didn’t feel like a kid. We could see she was a little nervous, but she still showed a maturity. The scenes were emotional and she got there.”

“It was really strange,” said Mckenna, “because one minute I’m introducing myself to you and the next I’m screaming in your face.”

“We had fun making this movie,” Chris said; to which Mckenna, sitting next to him, squeals out yea in favor of that. “She’s in her role every day bouncing off the walls in a good way so happy to be there and saying hi to everyone on the set. Even in the long days when we just go on and on it would be a good experience. Watching someone acclimated and so full of life you remember how lucky you are.”

About their chemistry together Mckenna said, “I think we had a very special connection.” Her favorite scene in the movie is, “When Frank takes me to the animal rescue where I see so many cats and pick out the one with one eye to take home,” she said. “When I had to smack Chris around, I thought there would be a stand-in person, but there wasn’t, and he just told me to go for it and do it.”

“And she went for it so committed that it made that scene feel authentic,” Chris said. On questions about playing Capt. America, Chris commented that playing a superhero can have a lot of humanity when you go to places like children’s hospitals and you see how excited the kids are how it lifts them up, that’s when I see how that role is important. I don’t take that job lightly. The best thing about performing in films is you can engage in a variety.”

Chris and Mckenna thoroughly enjoyed working with Octavia Spencer. “She was amazing, and on the weekends she took me to the movies. We got to know each other and have a very good time; and she makes great lemonade,” said Mckenna. “She’s the best,” Chris said, “She’s so sweet, has a real maternal instinct, and is just a love.

Octavia admitted she’s had limited time off since making The Shack, Gifted, and Hidden Figures a few years ago. “And I’m glad they are coming out now we need some of these movies that have a little heart,” she said. “Mckenna was eight then, she’s very rare, like the Fanning kids, you’re going to see one about every 10 years. It’s rare to be a kid, do what we do, and learn all her dialogue plus have that charisma? If you have good animals and good kids, which we had both in this movie, it’s just delicious. To connect you have to spend time with the child outside before you rehearse. We spent a lot of time together at movies and having lunch. And filming in Savannah was beautiful, a mixture of Charleston and New Orleans, but very unique. It has a romantic, mystical element.”

Asked about the similarity of this film concerning mathematics and Hidden Figures, which she filmed before this film was, “That didn’t bother me,” she said. “I loved what this film said about family, how important education is, and found it hysterically funny. It has a beautiful message about how unconventional families are and yet can still function. I liked the importance of the well-being of children it had.”

Almost every film that Spencer is in is a success. So what does she look for when scanning a new script? “I like movies that educate us, enlighten us, provide for some escapism, and entertain.”

Jenny Slate said playing a teacher in this movie was a way to remember the good teachers she grew up with. “I liked being obedient. As a child I was frantic, and it was hard for me to pay attention,” she said. “Playing a teacher gave me a chance to create an adult who is gentle but firm. Working with these kids was great. Most of them there were from Savannah, and aware they were in a movie, but not like a professional actor like Mckenna. In between takes I would play games and ask questions; that was fun. I got them into learning and needing to listen to someone. The connection between Chris and Mckenna was darling. Mckenna is for sure made to do this. They have a real synergy as actors. Frank is a very honorable man at this point so it was nice for Bonnie to be able to set him and Mckenna on the right road.

Our families are not always the ones we were born into.
This is an important idea to stay connected to.

--Director Marc Webb

Photo Credits: Wilson Webb /Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Recommended Audience:
Fans of family stories and new kid actors.