“Gifted” Film Review

Screen grab of "Gifted" (Fox Searchlight, 2017) | Reviewed by Pamela  Price for RedWhiteandGrew

That “Gifted” ( @GiftedTheMovie ) arrives at theatres nationwide on April 21 is no secret within the gifted community. Folks have been speculating about it since word of its production surfaced.

The curiosity is understandable. Media depictions of giftedness can be disconcerting, ranging from the goofy stereotypes of television (Urkel, anyone?) to more esoteric, far-fetched films like “Little Man Tate” based on tropes more apt to marginalize than normalize the concept of giftedness.

What gifted families crave in their media is something relatable, familiar–the kind of flick or show that opens up conversations with family and friends.

Fox Searchlight’s “Gifted” has a heartfelt authenticity that will resonate within and beyond gifted circles. Having seen it last week at a sneak preview hosted by Fox Searchlight, I’m going to give you my unbiased, spoiler-free review.

First, however, here’s the film’s trailer:

As has been noted elsewhere, the premise of the story is formulaic: man raises a quirky kid only to encounter a challenge to his choice to parent her as he sees fit. Predictably, the gifted child is depicted as “profoundly gifted” (a.k.a. a “prodigy” or “genius”) since it’s only the “one in a million” child that ensures audiences will sit up and pay attention. Frankly, I thought the court scenes around the inevitable challenge to his guardianship wore on a little too long. And the ending? It’s no shocker.

Yet there is so much more happening on screen between the opening and end credits than the plot.

It is in the humble moments of the characters’ journey that “Gifted” shines: a breakfast scene, a post-argument reconciliation between child and caregiver, and a passionate showdown in the principal’s office over education options. There’s a lot of heart in this movie about strong brains and perhaps stronger wills.

The cast was convincing and relatable, especially Mckenna Grace who makes her debut with a sincere, convincing performance that never veers into clichéd, Disneyesque “cuteness.” She is a sincere and believable actress. Chris Evans, Jenny Slate, and Octavia Spencer hit all the right notes as did one of my favorite actresses, Lindsay Duncan. Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) directs.

If you pay close attention to “Gifted,” you’ll notice how the script itself–written by Tom Flynn–touches upon the complexities of gifted identity and, perhaps more importantly, gifted family identity. There are multi-generational issues (including “hand me down dreams” (1) ), socio-emotional challenges in the classroom, and the kinds of deep philosophical exchanges that can happen between a child and adult at sunset.

Yes, other families experience some of these things, but they also have the luxury of seeing their realities routinely depicted. It is not every day that gifted families see depictions of educators and parents arguing over what makes a good educational “fit,” for example. It is not every day that we see characters face the inherent tensions between parenting for both support and challenge woven into a Hollywood family drama starring, well, Captain America himself. And let’s not even get into the fact that while his intelligence isn’t off the charts like other members of his family, Chris Evans’ character is rocking some serious giftedness, too. (That’s a whole other blog post, frankly. That guy is in denial–but then so are a lot of other parents/guardians of gifted kids.)

For gifted advocates, “Gifted” delivers a recognizable story in a pretty Hollywood package. In so doing, it provides families and educators an important story, one that can serve as a touchstone for deeper understanding and wider appreciation of what many gifted families face.

For everyone else, the film is a bit of Hollywood gentleness. If we’re lucky, though, it may leave them thinking about what lurks behind the word “gifted” itself.

***

Pamela Price is the author of Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families (GHF Press, 2015). You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

(1) “Hand Me Down Dreams” is the name of an out-of-print book (Amazon Affiliate Link) by Mary Jacobsen. I haven’t read it in years, but I met the author when I directed a career center at UT Austin. Without giving away too much of the story, I found myself thinking of it often while watching “Gifted.”

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Resurfacing

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I wrote another thing this week. It got published on TheMighty.com.

Now for a confession:

There for a few weeks I began to wonder if I would ever be able to write about anything other than grief. It wasn’t necessarily all I thought about–that damn election left me pretty irritable, for sure–but it was all I could think to write about here.

Grief and loss and the delicate, heartbreaking process of giving care to elders is a topic that I first wrote about in junior high. A neighbor’s mother died of breast cancer–after months of at-home care, and my own mother was so moved by my fiction piece inspired by it that she shared the story with the family. That was, with the exception of a play I wrote about Henry XII, my earliest memory of someone “sharing” my work. It left me feeling warm and satisfied. It is at root why I decided, in my thirties, to declare myself “a writer.”

Right now my writing and my life are at a crossroads. Our son is older and more easygoing. He needs me less, it seems, each day. In a matter of years I’ll be free to work full-time again, if I choose. Could I maybe ever earn enough to give my steadfast, hard-working husband a chance in 10 or 15 years from now to let me pay most of the bills? My sweet ol’ daddy has my fantastic stepmother as his partner–and he’s relatively healthy, so he doesn’t “need” me in the multiple ways my disabled mother did. Still, I worry. My mother? She is, of course, dead.

My mother is dead. DEAD. Because of that my most recent job–that of primary emotional, fiscal, and legal caregiver to a woman  who could, frankly, be a real handful–is gone. I lost my mother, my job, my child’s need for me to mother nonstop, and my identity (not to mention my geriatric cat) last year, in a span of weeks.

It’s a lot to take, if you think about it.

But right now, in this moment, I no longer have that feeling that I’m always going to feel like, well, my mother and cat just died and I just lost my job and my son is going to grow up and no longer need me and dear God how will I ever go back to a “regular job”? Those things are still true, sure, but they no longer feel binding, restrictive. They no longer suck the air out of my lungs.

This week I went out with friends to dinner–twice. This week I saw former students and colleagues at a professional conference (I crashed it!) who reminded me that I was a whole person before this Decade that Pushed Me to My Limits. This week I read a book that I wouldn’t normally read but am now almost finished with it and kinda stoked about the lessons it held. This week I did a lot of Zumba at home in my kitchen where no mirror would force me to acknowledge that I’m, well, getting saggy. This week I pitched articles again, this time to new places that I’d refrained from reaching out to because I feared another hospital stay by my mother would keep me from completing any projects. This week I started to kick around an idea for another article so I could help other people wrap their head around eldercare in ways other than financials and how to persuade an old person to move into a retirement village.

This week I updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect the fact that, job titles aside, I’ve been a writer in every job I’ve ever held in adulthood.

This week with fresh pots of orchids on my buffet, a vase of daffodils and a bunch of roses on my kitchen bar, I feel like I’m not hanging around that liminal space between life and death but in a new liminal space between past and future. It’s fresh and clean here, kinda fun, even.

Maybe I’m fun again, too? Maybe I’m also battle-scarred and rambling and back to the size I was in grad school but maybe just maybe this phase I’m in is no longer an ending but actually, truly, and finally a new beginning.

Crank up that Zumba beat, man.

I’m ready to dance again.

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