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.”