If you include his stint as Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) in the original Fantastic Four films, Captain America star Chris Evans has been playing superheroes onscreen for 12 years. And though he has proven his acting chops time and time again in challenging indie fare like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, at the end of the day, Evan’s will probably always be known as Captain America. There are far worse fates for actors, but Evan’s determination to prove that he is more than a pretty face in a superhero costume is definitely a win for audiences. Especially when the film he chooses to showcase said chops is as sweet and genuinely moving as his latest effort, Gifted.
A classically good family drama with a plot straight out of a TV movie of the week, Gifted is the type of big, hugely commercial film that Hollywood studios used to make in their sleep — you know, before the comic book craze came along and ruined everything. So, I guess it’s only fitting that everyone’s favorite Avenger would be the marquee name that got this beautifully-written indie gem green lit.
Based on an original screenplay by writer Tom Flynn (Watch It), Gifted has been in Hollywood’s crosshairs since Flynn’s script made the coveted Black List – an annual rundown of the best liked unproduced screenplays in town that regularly features eventual Oscar-winners like Juno, The Imitation Game and Spotlight – in 2015. And it’s easy to see why. Deftly avoiding the boatload of cliches that would easily bog down stories like Gifted’s, Flynn’s script takes characters and situations that we have all seen before in lesser family dramas and makes them real, flawed, and painfully human.
Gifted is the story of a hardworking fishing boat repairman named Frank (Evans) who is raising his late sister’s seven-year-old math prodigy daughter Mary (played by Fuller House’s superb Mckenna Grace) in a run-down apartment in central Florida. Having witnessed firsthand the toll that being considered different and special had on his equally gifted sister, Frank is determined to give Mary as normal an upbringing as possible. But when he enrolls Mary in the local public school after home schooling her for years, things take a turn for the worse and soon his estranged mother Evelyn (played by Private Lives’ Tony Award-winner Lindsay Duncan) re-enters the picture to sue for custody of Mary. Yes, I know, this sounds like the makings of a really juicy Lifetime movie. But, trust me, Gifted is way better than it sounds. And if you like your family drama on the emotionally-wrenching side, then prepare to ugly cry like Oprah because Flynn and director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) wring every well-deserved bit of genuine emotion they can from this perfectly calibrated drama.
Featuring surprisingly nuanced performances from the entire supporting cast – seriously, even Mary’s one-eyed cat, Fred is a revelation! – Gifted’s real secret weapons are Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate as Mary’s teacher, Bonnie, and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (Zootopia, Hidden Figures) as Frank’s warm, big-hearted neighbor, Roberta. Spencer is always amazing, but there are a few scenes here with Evans that are so real and totally understated that they will literally take your breath away.
And whether he’s holding his own with world-class actresses like Spencer and Duncan or ripping our hearts out in his scenes with Grace, Evans has never been better onscreen. In fact, if there’s any justice in the world, this will be the film that finally allows Evans to set aside his red, white, and blue shield for a bit and land the kind of meaty, serious roles that he so richly deserves. Gifted indeed.
Now playing on select Lufthansa, Delta, and British Airways flights worldwide, Gifted is also available via streaming at Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.