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We've Been Gifted with an Uplifting, Intelligent Family Drama

We've Been <i>Gifted</i> with an Uplifting, Intelligent Family Drama

Heartwarming, sassy, and funny, Gifted has it all: Family drama, a cute kid, tough life questions, even a one-eyed cat. It's a story about intelligent people who don't always make smart choices. Bonus: you're likely to leave the theater smarter than you came. How many movies do that? 4.5 out of 5.


Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising his niece Mary (McKenna Grace) in a modest home on the Florida coast. So far, so good. But when young Mary starts school, her off-the-chart mathematical abilities draw the attention of school authorities—and Frank's estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). Frank wants Mary to have a regular childhood: friends, Girl Scouts, that kind of thing. Evelyn wants her granddaughter to achieve mathematical immortality by solving an "impossible" equation. If "normal" life has to be sacrificed to reach that goal, so be it. Call the lawyers: a custody battle is on the cards and the fate of a family hangs in the balance.

What Works?

McKenna Grace is an absolute delight as Mary. She's funny, smart, sassy and appealing. The girl has a mouth on her—some of the "language" referred to in the PG-13 rating is hers—but the rest of her vocabulary is impressive. While Mary is obviously a prodigy, she's also just a kid trying to figure out the world around her as best she can. The relationship between Frank and Mary feels natural, healthy and rooted in love. They're fun to watch and even more fun to listen to. They're also good with Roberta (Octavia Spencer), Frank and Mary's landlady and best friend. Rounding out their little family is Frank the one-eyed cat. Frank's performance is understated at best (he is a cat, after all) but his contribution to the story is crucial.

What Doesn't?

The romance between Frank and Mary's teacher (Jenny Slate) seems contrived and unnecessary. They make a cute couple and normally I'd be rooting for them, but there's enough going on in the story that this plot line feels like clutter. It would have been nice to get a little more backstory on the broken relationship of Frank and his mother Evelyn. Their hostility is obvious; the reason for it not so much. Sure, he was appalled by her behavior toward his sister, but even that doesn't quite seem to justify the lengths Frank went to remove himself from his mother's universe.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

Mary says of her uncle Frank, "He wanted me before I was smart." Sounds a lot like Romans 5:8, doesn’t it? (But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.) "Jesus," Frank muses, "Love that guy. Do what he says." There's a respectful conversation about faith and God that includes the advice to "use your head but don't be afraid to believe" and concludes with "one way or another, we all end up together at the end."

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material 
  • Language/Profanity: Edgy and profane language is pervasive throughout the film; some of it comes from the mouth of young Mary. Specifics include the f-word, sh*t (sometimes combined with "bull" or "holy"); several terms using a**; d**n (sometimes with “God”); a character described as "a di*k."
  • Sexuality/Nudity: There's a fair amount of conversation about intercourse and a couple is shown having sex; she later appears unclothed but nothing specific is shown.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Several angry exchanges but violence is generally more emotional than physical, with the exception of a school bus confrontation. A cat is put in jeopardy but animal lovers need not panic.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: A character exclaims "I'd kill a priest for a Benadryl." Several scenes show people drinking; one explains, "My attorney said to get drunk."

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Parents; viewers who like intelligent characters; adults who want to laugh a lot, think a little, and enjoy an uplifting story. Gifted is one of my favorite movies of 2017 so far.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Younger viewers; the language is a little harsh and while the basic story might interest them, the perspective from which it's told doesn't seem likely to appeal.

Gifted, directed by Marc Webb, opened in theaters April 7, 2017; available for home viewing July 25, 2017. It runs 121 minutes and stars Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Lindsay Duncan and Jenny Slate. Watch the trailer for Gifted here.

Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).

Publication date: April 4, 2017