July 20, 2019

Popcorn: “Gifted”

The Long and Short of It

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

film critic

“Saw ‘Gifted.’ Little girl genius. Enjoyed it. Intellectual and emotional … homage to brainpower. Good acting. Won’t play in the hinterlands.”


Thus read my text to Hesh, my longtime movie sidekick who, absent from my viewing of director Marc Webb’s touching but predictable tale about the trials and tribulations of a 7-year-old math genius, asked what I had seen.

Succinct if not eloquent, I suggest it illustrates I’m able to pen a discourse on films considerably short of my usual 835 words. It should also prove a boon to those enduring, charitable readers who, while wishing to be apprised of the film in question, would just as soon not slog through my latest example of pretentious punditry.


Granted, this dumbing down could be a bit dangerous. While my capsulized, easy-speedy critique may be to literature what tweeting is to Presidential dignity, it might nonetheless offer a reprieve to those well-meaning friends and relatives who feel they need to explain why they haven’t read my most recent review. That’s always made me feel bad. Gosh … if you need to prepare for your address to the U.N., I understand. And who am I to rebuke those precluded from reading my column by a never-ending series of surgeries and funerals?


But alas, all this said, there is that hardcore group of loyal readers who, as indication of their support, inevitably mention something from the next to the last paragraph in my criticism. While just a hint of paranoia tells me that they only read the next to the last paragraph, such effort surely deserves favor. So blame them for the resultantly remaining 545 or so words of this literary tyranny.

The thing is, as rationalizer for my profession, you can always find a reason why something in or about a film proves instructive to the human situation. In this case, it’s fairly obvious. The recent rash of anti-intellectual sentiment mixed with a deluded notion of populism that left the barn after a hammer clanged the beginning of America’s Industrial Revolution in the late 1870s, is beleaguering. It is a friction to civilization. To deny that progressivism, globalization, preservation of the Earth and human rights are the way of the future is to invite a dark fate.


In this respect, movies like “Gifted,” that applaud mental pursuit and ennoble our species as capable of accomplishments well beyond the mere amassing of fortunes for a small oligarchy, attempt to keep an eye on the prize of a true, enlightened society. Working from a script by Tom Flynn, director Webb employs his protagonist, Mary, a math genius, to do the ‘out of the mouths of babes’ thing. Though saddled with domestic uncertainty and its accompanying, real-life soap opera problems, Mary symbolizes the altruism and innocence of educational endeavor.


Mckenna Grace’s superb, empathic depiction of the wunderkind, a modern, younger variation of the reflective, knowledge-hungry Francie portrayed by Peggy Ann Garner in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), is delightfully hopeful. Being raised by her kindly, indulgent uncle, Frank, for significant reasons that will be explained as the plot unfolds, she is a relatively happy child. Thus it’s unfortunate that Mary’s grandma, Evelyn, wants to butt in and mess things up, claiming her sudden intrusion is a mission of mercy. Yeah, right.


Supplying both subtext and subplot in one characterization, Chris Evans’s Uncle Frank adds a natural dimension to the otherwise familiar tale of contested guardianship. On first blush, you think he’s a slacker and that, by keeping Mary from attending the local school for whiz kids, he’s being lazy and negligent. That’s what the litigious granny, starchily exacted by Lindsay Duncan, would have you believe. Swooping down from Boston to Mary and Frank’s very humble digs in Florida after previously showing no interest in her grandchild, she is a real piece of work.


Of course, you know who suffers most when allegedly well-meaning relatives man spades and pitchforks in the name of a child’s health, education and welfare. The sad byproduct of such self-serving efforts is readily visible in the tears of their little victims. Mary’s heartrending beseeching for self-determination, sure to have you wiping your own eyes, is reminiscent of Jackie Cooper’s Dink in “The Champ” (1931). Few crimes are more egregious than the double robbery of one’s precious, happy childhood and the good memories it would have ensured.


But don’t despair, dear potential viewer. Cautionary doom and gloom is just the Yin of it, while the Yang comprises the film’s witty, enriching contemplations about genius, optimism and the love of learning. All told, it entertainingly petitions the human spirit to make the right choices in life, regardless of whether one is of average intelligence, or, for example, “Gifted” enough to have chosen to read this entire review.

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“Gifted,” rated PG-13, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by Marc Webb and stars Mckenna Grace, Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan. Running time: 101 minutes









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