Rated PG-13, 101 minutes
For a movie about really smart people, "Gifted" can be really dumb. The new dramedy starring "Captain America" star Chris Evans is best when it focuses on its young star, and not the silly adults who fight over her.
Frank Adler (Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy - his spirited young niece Mary ("Designated Survivor's" Mckenna Grace) - in a coastal town in Florida. Frank's plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the 7-year-old's mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank's formidable mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary.
Directed by "The Amazing Spider-Man's" Marc Webb with a script from Tom Flynn, "Gifted" is a less-compelling "Good Will Hunting" (it also involves Boston and a lot of math) with an uninvolving custody battle at its center. "Gifted's" treasure is the charming McKenna Grace, who steals every scene she's in as the unaffected Mary, who's much brighter than she seems and brims with an honesty that adults can learn from.
"Gifted" hits you in the head over and over with its central message: while Mary is a genius, she needs to be a normal child too. We get that, but why can't she have a decent education, especially if she can get a scholarship? Her lovable, handsome dope of an uncle, played by Evans, wants desperately to strive for balance, keeping her in a normal school to be around normal children, and so he can romance her teacher, played with goofy appeal by comedian Jenny Slate - both contrivances which really hurt the film. Also around to provide some levity is Oscar-winner and "Hidden Figures" star Octavia Spencer, who sings karaoke and loves on Mary like her own, while Mary's ultra-British grandmother (Duncan) wants to prepare her for a life of a brilliant mathematician.
You don't have to be good with numbers to see where "Gifted's" story ultimately leads to, and while I can appreciate some of it, the dullness sets in when the adults blather on and on and the script wants to unload a lot of unnecessary backstory with Mary's family. When the story closely follows the precocious, brilliant Mary (who knows how to use a book against a bully), it gets high marks, but its preachy script, which doesn't seem rooted in reality, misses the mark.
The charming but redundant "Gifted" is good but needs improvement in some areas, mainly a more focused, realistic story that needs to listen to its subject instead of talk at it.