Gifted and all the images you see in this review are owned by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by Marc Webb
Has anyone else notice that Marc Webb now has four movies in a row with Superheroes in them? Sure the Amazing Spider-Man movie are obvious, but 500 Days of Summer had Joseph Gordon-Levitt (AKA Robin) and now he’s directing Captain America in a movie about a girl genius! Hell, if he can get back on track now that he isn’t weighed down by Sony’s super petty pet projects, maybe he’ll be the one to finally get Hugh Jackman that Oscar in some heartfelt indie drama or something! Speaking of which, the indie vibe is certainly strong with this one which I don’t particularly begrudge the guy for considering he spent the last five years on terrible films. If he needs a film to rediscover his roots and remind us all why he was such a promising up and coming director, I’m more than fine with it! Does this manage to be the movie that resuscitate his fledgling directorial career, or will this prove once and for that he’s not that strong of a director even when he doesn’t have a giant studio breathing down his neck? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins on the first day of school for Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) who’s been home schooled by her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) up until now, but he’s determined for her to have a normal childhood which includes interacting with other children instead of just grownups like him and their helpful neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer). Of course, Mary isn’t exactly a normal girl as she has SUPER impressive math skills which doesn’t go unnoticed by her teacher Miss Stevenson (Jenny Slate) or anyone else in the school which unfortunately leads to Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) finally tracking the two of them down. So why is this bad thing? Well since Mary isn’t technically Frank’s daughter (her mother is his sister and Evelyn’s daughter who died some time ago), she feels she can get a court to give her full custody of Mary and make sure that her brain is put to good use; mainly studying advanced calculus every day with college professors instead of going to grade school. Fair enough I guess. I mean, it’s not like she’s getting THAT much out of the first grade curriculum. Then again, as we learn more about Evelyn and ESPECIALLY her relationship to Mary’s mother, things get a bit less clear cut and Frank is certainly not about to back down on trying to give Mary a normal life. Will Frank get to keep Mary from a sheltered academic life, or is he simply holding her back from reaching her true potential. What exactly happened that led to Frank having Mary in the first place? Does anything from this movie look familiar to anyone else?
This movie is alright I guess, but it’s hardly something I’ll even bother remembering even a week from now. The movie is SO lightweight and predictable that it barely registers as an actual film, or as I like to call it… Pablumatic! Anyone? Come on! That’s a good one! Hell, you’ll probably remember THAT tortured joke a lot more than anything in this movie! I will give the movie credit that it manages to hold together and be cohesive despite every opportunity to be an unruly mess, and the reason for that (as well as the reason for ANYTHING being good in this movie) is Chris Evans; presumably just a pseudonym so we don’t find out that Captain America and Steve Rogers ACTUALLY exist! We sometimes get movies where the lead actor is only thing of note, and they can be more than watchable in their own right (*cough*Nicolas Cage *cough*), but Chris Evan’s performance in this goes further than that as he’s literally anchoring everything that’s going on in the narrative as well as being the most swell human being to ever exist. That… and the guy is still as dreamy as ever!
So what is it about this movie that desperately needed Greatest Living White Guy Chris Evans to keep it from falling apart? The biggest problem it has is in regards to its pacing as everything seems to stop and start in lurching intervals and it ends up feeling like a whole season of a TV show stripped down and reorganized into something resembling a feature film. I’m not quite sure if this movie is supposed to take place over a few months or even a few years as the film will unexpectedly make a huge leap in plot development without even telling us if this jump ALSO means a significant change in time. The transition from the grandmother coming into town and us in the middle of a custody battle in court happens without any sort of fanfare (we don’t even know where he got a lawyer or how he intends to pay for their services), characters come in and out of the story seemingly at random and there’s a whole lot of telling instead of showing when it comes to certain ideas and threats in the movie. Seriously, was the principal supposed to come back at some point after kicking off this whole mess? What about the court appointed councilor who got a decently sized scene with Mary, but she never comes back into the story to make a recommendation either way about her living situation; the one thing you’d THINK they’d do with her character given her setup!
Now I’m not about to excuse ALL of those flaws, but the movie itself seems to acknowledge that a lot of the finer details aren’t important since the focus is more on Chris Evans and his relationship to Mary. Do we want to add a scene of Chris Evans preparing for his court date, or should we cut that and have three more minutes of him and Mary at the beach? For the most part, the movie always chose the latter option as they knew that’s exactly what their audience was looking for (maudlin sentimentality), and while there IS a bit of cynicism in doing that, it also means the movie is refreshingly honest about what it’s doing; similar to how pretty much every martial arts movie has an underdeveloped plot to accommodate more ass-kickings. Instead of punching dudes though (which he does in most of his other movies) Chris Evans is giving stern but loving lectures about not looking down on people and having thoughtful discussions on God and belief in the least obnoxious way imaginable. Either the filmmakers knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they casted Chris Evans, or they lucked out as he’s really the only thing saving this from being a rather boring mess.
Performances across the board are rather good even if none of them compare to the majesty of Captain Humility, and the film does a decent enough job of fleshing them out so they aren’t entirely one note. Even Evelyn Adler as Mary’s grandmother has a reasonable amount of depth considering how cartoonishly villainous she is, though I get the feeling the movie wants us to somehow take her seriously despite having the emotional sensibilities of C Montgomery Burns. McKenna Grace does just fine as Mary and certainly nails that smart person disdain for the common people, but she honestly feels more like a prop in Chris Evans story more than anything else, and its ESPECIALLY egregious in the third act where she’s basically pushed into the background so that The Human Torch over here can complete his character arc. A GOOD character arc mind you, but the filmmaker knew who the REAL star of this movie was from the get go. She still has it better than Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate though; both of whom are firmly in the background the whole time and similarly exist just as extensions of Chris Evans character. The former as a plot convenient mother figure whenever Chris Evans needs to have a scene alone, and the latter to be someone for him to spout exposition at and have shenanigan filled romance with. Like I said, Chris Evans is the glue holding all these disparate parts together so everyone else comes up rather short in comparison, and while it would be nice if these secondary characters were better developed, I doubt that taking any focus away from the big star here would have been a significant improvement overall.
The movie is pretty simple when you get right down to it, which is kind of ironic considering it’s about such high minded people. Conflicts are never insurmountable, characters are tested but always find a way to get through it, and you enjoy watching Chris Evans charisma his way through all ninety minutes of it. It’s certainly a HEAVILY flawed movie full of big pacing issues and individual story points that I can nit-pick (what POSSIBLE reason could he have for not getting freaking health insurance!?), but it’s a movie that gives you exactly what you are expecting which isn’t always a bad thing. Sure, it’s BETTER if a film manages to rise above or even subvert expectations, but there are WAY too many movies out there that don’t even get that far. Chris Evans is a supreme talent to the point that even his lesser works such as this one manage to stay afloat just on his charisma (the Nicolas Cage effect, though in more recent years the crown has been handed off to Dwayne Johnson), but in this case that’s still not enough to recommend seeing it in theaters. Check it out once it gets a home release, but your honestly not missing much if you just skip over this one entirely. Then again, it’s not like we’re getting another Avengers movie for at least a year, so this probably what you’ll need to tide you over until then. Then again, you COULD always rewatch Push, or even that one animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where he voiced Casey Jones. No seriously, he did that in between Fantastic Four films. Dude SERIOUSLY got the mother of all breaks when he was cast as Captain America.