MOVIE REVIEW: Gifted is a quality tear-jerker
WHEN a lawyered-up stage grandmother comes between a seven-year-old maths prodigy and her damaged, boat mechanic uncle ... tissues are mandatory.
Family tug-of-war melodramas don't come much more clearly signposted than Gifted, Marc Webb's (The Amazing Spider-Man) first "original" film since 500 Days of Summer.
But even though we know exactly where this story is heading - in this instance, Webb follows the screenwriting rule book to the letter - that doesn't diminish the pleasure to be had in getting there.
Gifted's two leads make great travelling companions.
Chris Evans' relaxed performance in the role of Frank Adler, a single man doing his best to raise his sister's daughter, is easy to warm to.
And he is well matched by Mckenna Grace's gutsy, precocious Mary.
It must have been a happy accident - surely no casting agent could have engineered such a feat - but Grace's missing two front teeth seal the deal.
Frank knows "genius" comes at a price.
His sister, a brilliant mathematician, committed suicide - which is how her infant daughter came to be in his care in the first place.
When Mary shows signs of inheriting her mother's gift, Frank is determined to give her as normal life as possible, which means sending her to the local school where she can socialise with other children her age.
But after the principal alerts his estranged mother to Mary's exceptional talents, the steely Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) pulls rank.
She intends to nurture her granddaughter's gift in the same manner she did with her daughter.
And that hothouse environment is exactly what Frank is trying to avoid.
He is keenly aware, however, that when faced with a choice between a privileged Boston matriarch and a dropout who lives in a trailer park, the courts might take an alternative position.
Gifted doesn't go too deeply into the politics of difference and the film's ending is fairly pat.
But the two lead actors have such natural screen chemistry it's hard to imagine things turning out any other way.
Duncan lends light and shade to a character that could simply have been a monstrous Massachusetts matriarch, Octavia Spencer is a force of a nature as Mary's adopted aunt, and even Jenny Slate's love interest goes ever so slightly against the grain.
A superior tear-jerker with a laid-back Florida aesthetic.
Gifted opens in cinemas tomorrow.
Stars: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer
Director: Marc Webb
Verdict: 3.5 stars