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Film / Gifted

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"Frank's a good person. He wanted me before I was smart."

Gifted is a 2017 American drama-comedy directed by Marc Webb (director of (500) Days of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man Series), starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, and Octavia Spencer.

Following the suicide of his genius sister, Frank Adler (Evans) takes on the guardianship of his niece Mary (Grace). Frank attempts to raise Mary to be as normal a kid as possible, but she has clearly inherited her mother's intellectual abilities, especially in the field of mathematics. When Mary starts attending school at the age of seven, it is clear to her teacher Bonnie (Slate) that she is far beyond the other children in her class or even her own abilities as a teacher. A chain of events is set in place that draws Mary's grandmother Evelyn (Duncan) back into her and Frank's lives after seven years, in a battle over Mary's future.

Not to be confused with Gifted, The Gifted (2014), or The Gifted (2017).

This film provides examples of:

  • Acting Your Intellectual Age: Mary has problems relating to other kids of her age because of her unchildish interests.
  • Adoption Conflict: The main conflict of the film is Mary's uncle and grandmother fighting over custody of her.
  • Anti-Education Mama: Downplayed. While Mary's uncle and guardian Frank encourages her intellectual interests, he also insists she go to a normal school instead of one that would better suit her advanced mathematical abilities. This is later revealed to be because his math genius sister, Mary's mother, killed herself due to their mother's extreme Education Mama tendencies making her isolated and depressed. He became jaded against all his mother stood for, including prestigious schooling, quitting his own philosophy career over this. According to Frank, Mary's mother also would have wanted a more normal life for her daughter and he is fulfilling her wishes. By the end of the film, Frank learns to Take a Third Option - Mary takes advanced math classes but join non-academic extracurriculars to mingle with normal children.
  • Anti-Villain: Painting Evelyn as a villain comes with the genre for a film like this, but she remains vaguely likable throughout because of her sharp wit, the fact that she does love Mary in her own way, and the nagging suspicion that she is right about Mary needing a totally different kind of academic environment from the one Frank is providing her. However, her relentless drive for her daughter to be an academic success led to her having an emotional breakdown after completing her life's work and then committing suicide as she lost all sense of purpose in life. This makes Frank's mission to prevent her from deciding Mary's academic future more sympathetic and understandable. Given Evelyn's My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • Bad Liar: Mary's biological father is brought into the custody battle when Evelyn support her having custody. He claims that he could never find Mary, but Frank's lawyer provides a laptop and runs a quick search for Mary's name to demonstrate that it would have been easy for the man to find his daughter if he'd actually been interested in doing so.
  • Bully Hunter: Mary injures an older boy on the school bus in retaliation for him bullying a peer.
  • Cain and Abel: Averted; Frank loved Diane, and he regrets that he didn't talk to her the night she killed herself because he wanted to go out on a date and "get laid". While a lawyer suggests that Frank was The Unfavorite and that taking Mary away was revenge on their mother for not loving Frank more, he continually maintains that he wants to honor his sister's wishes.
  • Childish Tooth Gap: Mary, who's six at the start of the film, is missing multiple teeth. It highlights her youthfulness and energy as she grins when enjoying herself jumping around, showing them.
  • Child Prodigy: Mary is seven years old and fully able to work out advanced calculus problems, even noticing where the problems are deliberately written incorrectly.
  • Children Are Innocent: Zig-Zagged. Mary clearly understands enough about "the facts of life" to figure out why Bonnie was walking around in Frank's home wearing nothing but a bedsheet — to the point that she smugly comments, "Awkward," when she and Frank meet for the first time after the incident. But she's also very trusting of the adults whom she loves, such as Frank and Roberta. That's why she places total faith in Frank's promise that he's not going to leave her which makes his decision to send her to a foster family all the more shattering for her.
  • Cool Uncle: Frank encourages Mary's academic interests while still encouraging her to act like a kid, and loves to take her to the beach or out for a ride on boats he's finished fixing. From an adult perspective, it doesn't hurt that he's played by Chris Evans.
  • Courtroom Drama: Much of the middle act of the film focuses on the custody battle between Frank and Evelyn. The cross-examination sequences are a good opportunity for the film to let the two explain their different views on what's in Mary's best interests.
  • Debate and Switch: While Frank is the more sympathetic figure, and Mary is clearly shown to be happy with him, Evelyn has valid points about Mary being an exceptional child with huge potential, and an appropriate education is important to that. This fight plays out over most of the film, but is essentially negated when Frank reveals that he's been sitting on the mathematical proof she's been waiting for all these years, and she agrees to take that instead of taking Mary. Which pretty much establishes that she cares more about achieving fame and success than about Mary herself.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When she was seventeen, Diane ran off with a neighborhood boy whom she liked, to a resort town. When they came back, Evelyn had the boy arrested on charges of kidnapping and filed a suit, so that he could never call Diane again. Diane took it hard, since she attempted suicide a year later. Frank also mentions that Evelyn hated that Diane got pregnant, which explains why Evelyn only reappeared on hearing that Mary was a prodigy.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mary's mother, Diane, killed herself when she was just a baby. It's indicated this was due to feeling that she was left without a purpose after having solved the math problem she'd worked on for most of her life, which her mother had caused further by controlling her life quite strictly, and became depressed as a result. She had previously attempted suicide before this as well.
  • Driving Question: Who has Mary's best interests at heart? Is it her Cool Uncle Frank, who wants her to be a normal kid, or her grandmother Evelyn, who wants Mary to pursue her educational potential?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Pretty much all of the main characters. Mary is enrolled in the Academy but also gets to enjoy a normal childhood in her primary school. It's implied that Frank is beginning to come out of his self-imposed exile from the academia, as Mary finds a philosophical treatise by Descartes in his car. Evelyn goes around fulfilling her lifelong dream of achieving fame in mathematics, not just for herself but also for her daughter posthumously. There are some indications that Frank and Bonnie might consider a relationship.
  • Education Mama: Evelyn was this to Diane, and once she discovers Mary has inherited her mother's smarts she tries to become this to Mary too. For Evelyn this is also a case of Vicariously Ambitious — as her own career in mathematics was cut short by moving to America and having a family, she hopes to gain academic fame through her descendants.
  • E = MC Hammer: Mary is using multiple black boards to solve the big equation at her test.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mary reveals her mathematical talent to the audience by solving tough calculations with ease on her first day of first grade.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Frank tells Mary she has to go to regular school so she can learn what 'ad nauseum' means. We then learn that Frank used to be a philosophy professor until his sister died.
    • Evelyn takes offense when Frank's lawyer suggests that by depriving Diane of having a normal life she emotionally abused her daughter and would do the same to Mary. Frank finds out that Evelyn broke the custody plea deal by helping out Mary's tutors and making the foster family give up her cat, thus doing exactly what Frank didn't want her to do. She cries uncontrollably after Frank gives her Diane's work on the Navier-Stokes equation and reveals that Diane wanted it published after Evelyn's death, before her mother could partake in the glory. For all her bravado, Evelyn likely knew that she had enabled her daughter's suicide, and cost her happiness.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: It's natural to side with Frank, given that he's likable, obviously cares deeply about Mary, and she's shown to be happy and flourishing with him. Nonetheless, Evelyn's points about Mary being an exceptional child who needs a specialized education aren't without merit. Evelyn may err on the side of ambition and pressure, but Frank is pretty stubborn in his insistence that Mary have a "normal" education, even when that means taking lessons that are far beneath her abilities. At the end, while Frank is back in charge of making decisions, he appears to strike a more reasonable balance, putting her in advanced study arrangements, while also encouraging her to pursue activities and friendships that are appropriate to her age.
  • Hate Sink: Evelyn, is she ever. She single-handedly ruined the life of her daughter, Diane to the point where Diane is Driven to Suicide, tried to steal Mary from Frank, goes out of her way to ruin her son's life, reneged the custody agreement by sending Fred to an animal shelter against Mary's wishes, and clearly sees her own granddaughter as a tool instead of a person. She's pretty much an easy target for the audience to root against.
  • Heroic BSoD: It's not obvious, but Frank was probably going through one for the entire movie as a result of his guilt over his sister's death and desire to rebel against everything that his mother stood for. Symptoms: renouncing his academic roots, giving up his presumably well-paid job as an associate-professor in philosophy at Boston University, making his living as a freelance boat repairer, obstinately refusing to put Mary in the kind of academic environment in which she would intellectually thrive. However, later on, with the revelation that his sister committed suicide after completing her life's work, likely due to the high pressure upbringing that Evelyn plans for Mary, then his reasoning becomes less about rebellion and more about his fear of history repeating.
  • Hidden Depths: Frank can pass for a person with a blue-collar job more or less successfully, but halfway during cross-examination it is revealed that he used to be an associate-professor in philosophy at Boston University seven years ago. Given that he is in his mid-thirties, that is an impressive achievement.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Roberta scoffs at Frank for not even being able to hire a white lawyer, although she is African American herself. Though this is probably less hypocritical than a world-weary assumption that a white lawyer would be taken more seriously in court. Given the easy rapport that Frank's local attorney seems to have with the judge, her concerns may be overblown.
  • Innocent Prodigy: Emotionally, Mary is still seven, and her reactions to situations like finding out her father had been tracked down for the custody case but still didn't want to see her, or when Frank leaves her with the foster family remind the audience she is still very much a child.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Mary shuns her classmates because they are boring. But she loves being around Roberta. Negated by the end, when we see Mary suddenly enjoying interacting with her mates on a playground.
  • Ironic Echo: In an early scene Mary is too busy writing to say good morning to her teacher in the classic sing-song voice with the rest of the class, so has to say it by herself. Later, the morning after Bonnie and Frank got drunk and slept together, Bonnie walks around the house in just a sheet and is spotted by Mary:
    Mary: Good morning, Miss Stevenson.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Referenced. Frank declines to give his opinion on whether or not there's a God, but he does say, "Love that guy. Do what he says" when Mary asks about Jesus. He sidesteps her question of whether or not Jesus is divine.
  • Just in Time: Frank's rescue of Fred moments before he is about to be administered a lethal injection.
  • Kick the Dog: On Evelyn's part. Frank finally goes back for Mary when he finds out that Evelyn paid them to take Mary's cat Fred away (due to disliking cats and feeling Fred was a distraction for Mary. He finds Fred, and two other cats, minutes from being euthanized. Realizing Evelyn violated the custody agreement, he goes to confront her and take Mary back after rescuing Fred and the other two cats from being put down.
  • Mama Bear: Roberta stands in Evelyn's way when Frank chases after a grieving Mary, giving an icy Death Glare that stops the woman dead in her tracks.
  • Maybe Ever After: Frank and Bonnie aren't in a relationship at the end but there seems to be a genuine connection.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Mary asks Frank why he's leaving her with the foster family, Frank starts saying, "We've discussed this ad nauseam" but stops abruptly, remembering the time he used this phrase in happier days. Instead, he simply says, "We have discussed this."
  • Mommy Issues: Clearly a problem for Frank. He believes that he is justified in keeping Mary away from the academic environment that will intellectually stimulate her and rejecting his own academic background despite his inherent intelligence. This is more of a reaction against everything that Evelyn stands for than an objective assessment of what's in his and Mary's best interests. However, he does have a point that Evelyn's drive is costing Mary's happiness and the normal childhood she desires. Also, while he originally rebelled against Mary's pursuit of Academia due to his mother ruining Diane's life and happiness, he is correct her ambition clouds her judgment regarding what's best for Mary.
  • Motive Rant: Evelyn gives one in court on the witness stand, ranting about how Frank is depriving Mary of a bright future.
  • My Beloved Smother: Evelyn controlled every aspect of Diane's life and forbade her from pursuing any activity apart from mathematics; including skiing, watching baseball, and going on romantic dates. In fact, Evelyn insists math was the only thing Diane loved in life and she had no other interests, which is why she "nurtured" that love of math. She's stunned when it's brought up that Diana enjoyed sports as well, which she didn't even know about her daughter. Hence, Frank is terrified that she'll do the same thing to Mary if she were to gain custody of her.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Bonnie apologizes to Frank on hearing that the principal's inquiries have led to the custody battle. She tells him she didn't tell anyone what she found out about his family, and he believes her.
    • Frank when he finds out that Mary's foster family sent her cat away to be euthanized; he rescues Fred, goes back for her, and apologizes to her for going with the custody deal.
    • Evelyn breaks down into tears when she reads that while her daughter had solved the Navier-Stokes problem, she didn't want it to be published until after Evelyn's death. Diane grew to hate Evelyn, her own mother, so much that she refused to give her the satisfaction of having solved one of the world's greatest equation problems; a purpose Evelyn gave her as a child.
  • Nephewism: Frank has raised his niece Mary since she was a baby following the suicide of her mother, his sister Diane.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Mary defending a classmate from getting bullied, as well as her teacher wanting to help Mary while the latter is bored in class, leads to Evelyn finding Mary and Frank, and wanting custody of her granddaughter.
  • Not So Above It All: Mary is usually serious and impatient at times, but when she catches her teacher Ms. Stevenson leaving her uncle's room with a Modesty Bedsheet, she smiles and can't resist a joke about it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Evelyn outlives her daughter Diane who died before the movie's story.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mary's mother killed herself after dropping her off with her uncle Frank, who raised her after this. Her birth father had left her mother quickly. Later he never even tried to really find her and clumsily lies by claiming that he had, when it's shown if this was true she would have been located with ease.
  • Parting-Words Regret: Frank forever laments that he didn't want to talk to his sister one night that she showed up with her baby because he had a date. When he came back, she was dead on the bathroom floor. She had wanted her brother's advice after she had solved the Navier-Stokes problem, thus accomplishing what her mother wanted her to do since she was a child and now searching for a new purpose in life.
  • Pet the Dog: Not only does Frank save Fred mere minutes from getting euthanized, but he also rescues two other cats who were next in line.
  • The Promise:
    • Frank promises Mary that she would stay with him. Of course, the promise gets broken and she calls him out on it but things get better towards the end.
    • Frank had also promised his sister not to publish her life's work until Evelyn died. He breaks that promise to regain custody of Mary.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Bonnie Stevenson. She's annoyed that her new student is disrespectful and seems to have No Social Skills, but she recognizes that Mary is acting out due to boredom and lacking experience with peers her age. So she tries to convince Frank that Mary deserves a higher education, without overstepping boundaries. The "reasonable" part goes out the window when she sleeps with Frank, and when Mary is sent to the Academy.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Not explicitly stated, but implied; when Mary's biological father is brought into the custody case by Evelyn, Frank's lawyer neatly proves how poor he would be as a guardian for Mary by providing a laptop to demonstrate how easy it would have been for him to find his daughter if he actually wanted to find her, clearly demonstrating his disinterest.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Downplayed, but Frank's local attorney has a simple and unpolished style that the judge seems to respond to, in contrast to Evelyn's slicker, big city lawyer.
    "Your honor, if we let our northern friends' fear of palmetto bugs reign supreme, we wouldn't have a child left south of Tallahassee."
  • So What Do We Do Now?: The reason for Diane's suicide — she had solved the mathematical problem that had become the entire purpose of her life. Once it was done she had no idea what to do with the rest of her life.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Discussed by Evelyn when she said that she left most of her academic life after she's married, which resulting in her becoming Education Mama to her children, especially Diane.
  • Stealth Pun: When Frank rhetorically asks, "Do I look gifted to you?" with reference to his intellectual ability, Bonnie looks down at him with probably a different idea of 'gifted' in mind.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: As seen from Diane's photograph, she looks just like her daughter.
  • Taking a Third Option:
    • Evelyn's lawyer proposes that, instead of Mary living with either of them, she lives with a foster family that's close enough for Frank to visit regularly, Evelyn will receive visitation rights, and Mary will attend the gifted school. Frank's lawyer convinces him to take it, on the grounds that it's the only way to guarantee that Mary doesn't get sent to Boston. Subverted, when Evelyn then manipulates the foster family to give her effective control, and push Frank out.
    • Frank comes up with another one, when instead of letting the court decide, Frank reveals that Diane had solved the Navier-Stokes problem, and uses her proof to bribe her into letting Mary stay with him again. Ultimately, Mary does take advanced math classes, but still lives with Frank and participates in extracurricular activities with kids her own age.
  • Teacher/Parent Romance: This resulting in an embarrassing moment for Bonnie when Mary sees her after her one-night-stand with Frank.
  • Tearful Smile: Mary pulls the corners of Frank's mouth into a smile when he is in tears, resulting in this.
    Mary: You're smiling.
  • Throw the Book at Them: When Mary chastises an older boy for bullying a classmate, he challenges her to do something about it. Mary responds by striking him in the face with a book, breaking his nose.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Subverted. For the first couple of scenes it seems like Frank and Bonnie's story arch is going down a familiar path of Will They or Won't They?... until they get drunk and sleep together with nearly disastrous consequences, and refrain from pursuing a sexual relationship for the rest of the film.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Evelyn gave up her dreams of becoming a world-famous mathematician after marrying and having kids, so her ambition became to ensure her daughter succeeded in becoming what she couldn't and, by failing that, her daughter's daughter.
  • Wham Line: Right after the Wham Shot on the manuscript title, Evelyn has another hard truth to face about her estranged relationship to Diane:
    Frank: Diane instructed me very clearly that I was only to publish it postmortem.
    Evelyn: She died six years ago.
    Frank: It wasn't her death she was talking about.
  • Wham Shot: When Frank reveals to Evelyn that Diane had solved the Navier-Stokes problem by showing her a script with the respective title.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Frank and Bonnie. But this is dispensed with within the first third of the movie.


Video Example(s):


Math genius at seven

Mary reveals her mathematical talent to the audience by solving tough calculations with ease on her first day of first grade.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / EstablishingCharacterMoment

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