Hokey and overly sentimental, this “Good Will Hunting”/”Big Daddy” mashup has neither the patient insight nor humorous charm of either of those classic flicks. Every problem, both mathematical and familial, is dialed up to 11, even though we can see the simple storytelling solution from a mile away. The performances are commendable, but director Marc Webb tries to evoke too much math melodrama, when he should have just made a drama.
Mckenna Grace plays Mary Adler, a 7-year-old who somehow is a mathematical prodigy despite her hilariously sarcastic remarks. But Mary’s gifts are wrapped in tragedy: her mom killed herself at a young age, and her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) took her in against the wishes of her grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). When Mary’s teacher Bonnie notices the young child’s gift, she first advocates for Mary’s education before relenting to Frank’s best wishes. And sometimes helping Frank out with child-rearing is his neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer).
The primary conflict is between Frank and Evelyn. Each desire to have custody of Mary, but each of their desires is rooted within regret from their own past. Frank is remorseful that he grew distant from his sister, wishing she had a normal life, while Evelyn regrets her daughter never living up to her full potential, her entire life literally dedicated to an unsolved problem. Mary is just a vessel for the two to channel their selfish regrets, a seven-year-old that will apparently give solace to their lives’ anguish.
It’s an interesting dramatic concept, but the actual dialogue and encounters shared between Frank and Evelyn feel so far-fetched that it’s impossible to believe they’re mother and son. Bonnie’s decision making also makes little sense, rendering us unable to appreciate or sympathize with her character, and Roberta honestly just feels like Octavia Spencer was typecast in another caretaker role.
But the story just fails to keep us intrigued or provide motivation to keep moving forward. That’s because this child isn’t in control of her own destiny like Will Hunting is, so we miss out on her key perspective and a good story as a result. There are some decent moments, but “Gifted’s” take on child genius does not leave an impact