BY ROGER THOMAS
At this point film fans are waiting for the summer blockbusters. There are plenty of them starting on May 5th when “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” lands in a theatre near you. We have had some good films during this time between Oscars and summer, but finding a truly special film is often difficult. There is one playing right now that is better than most.
I went into the theatre to see “Gifted” with no expectations. I had seen the trailer several times and thought it looked cute and sweet, but those are hardly words one uses to rave about a film.
As I have said often, I like when a film exceeds my expectations and “Gifted” was one of those films.
The story is simple. Frank, played by “Captain America” otherwise known as Chris Evans, is a boat mechanic who is raising his niece in Florida. Early in the film the niece, Mary, begins first grade. That does not go well. Though Mary is only seven, she is smarter than her teacher and most people around her.
It is a simple premise. There is a grandmother who wants custody and her granddaughter. She does not plan to play nice. Frank thinks he is doing a fine job of parenting though there are some issues. There is a neighbor, Roberta, played by Octavia Spencer who seems to be in every other movie released in the last four months. Roberta loves Mary almost as much as Frank does.
The film has a court battle for custody of young Mary that is almost as powerful as the one in the all-time classic custody dispute of “Kramer vs Kramer.” Real lawyers do not often fire questions as fast as they do on screen. However, this film trial sizzles often as each lawyer attempts to make the other lawyer’s client look foolish. However, the trial is just one element of a film crowded with subplots.
There is Frank’s romantic relationship that develops during the film. The history of Mary’s mother unfolds. Evelyn, Frank’s mother, plays with many secrets. And I cannot fail to mention Fred, a one-eyed cat, that gets as many laughs as most of the human actors. Some of the surprises are small and some are grand, but overall, they are satisfying almost always.
I am not one to laugh very loud in a theatre, but those around me certainly seemed enthusiastic. On the other hand, there were moments of quiet when nothing funny was on screen but other emotions being stirred.
Evans, Spencer, McKenna Grace who plays Mary, and Lindsey Duncan as Evelyn are all strong characters with firm beliefs of what is right and what is necessary. Throughout the film, much like real life, they make mistakes but most of the time they are doing wrong because they think it is the right thing.
That is one of the greatest strengths of the film. No character is absolutely evil or pure good. Most choices that are made by these characters are believed by one of them that they are doing something moral and righteous.
I applaud a film that does not allow anyone character to be absolute evil versus absolute good. Chris Evans fights enough of those battles as Captain America. It is good to see him as a flawed man trying to do what is best for his deceased sister’s young daughter. Frank can’t save the world, but he just might save those he loves.
“Gifted” is a small film and has not found an audience. The opening weekend it was sixteenth at the box office. That is a shame because this is one of the best films of 2017 thus far. It is not a masterpiece but it gets a lot of things right and keeps one wondering where will the film go next.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.