Chris Evans is a sneakily good actor—a leading man without chameleonic range, he manages to make Captain America a believably perfect person the same way Christopher Reeves did Superman, play an inverted version of the type in the much darker Snowpiercer, and send the whole action hero thing up in his incredible appearance in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Gifted isn’t an action movie, but a feelsy indie drama from Marc Webb, returning to his 500 Days of Summer-planted roots after two poorly received Spider-Man movies, making the whole thing a big break from superherodom for director and lead.
It’s not the opposite of a superhero film, as 7-year-old Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) does have a sort of superpower, which is that she’s a prodigal math genius. Evans plays Frank, Mary’s uncle and guardian, who has raised her since her genius mathematician mother’s suicide shortly after she was born. The movie begins with Frank sending her to her first day of normal school, where her talent is quickly spotted, leaving Frank to fend off pressure to send her to the kind of high-pressure, “gifted” life that ruined his sister’s.
It’s not the heaviest movie in the world, but Grace and Evans’ chemistry is charming and genuine. They both know Frank, a former professor who’s now a semi-unemployed boat mechanic (and whether you buy Chris Evans as a philosophy professor is up to you really), isn’t perfect, but he’s better than the movie’s antagonist, Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). Duncan is great as the elitist, British Evelyn, whose obsession with mathematical talent takes her to the point of fighting for custody of a granddaughter she waited seven years to even meet, and her contrast with the more relaxed Evans provides more strong family moments.
While things get dramatic, Webb and writer Tom Flynn don’t overdo it, making for what’s just about the same sentimental but fairly nice kind of movie you’d expect from the trailer. It’s nice to see Chris Evans (and Jenny Slate, who plays Mary’s teacher Bonnie) deviate from what he’s contractually obligated to spend most of his time doing, and even if it’s the most powerful family-based movie in theaters right now, it’s a slower and less furious alternative to the current champ.
Images from Fox Searchlight Pictures