We’ve been awed by brilliant movie minds before, each attempting to cope with the deep personal pain their special brain powers often creates. Russell Crowe shocked us in “A Beautiful Mind” as a Nobel Laureate in Economics. A young Stephen Hawking at Cambridge was superbly personified by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”. And nobody can forget Matt Damon’s 20-year-old character with the skyrocket IQ, sparring in verbal jujitsu opposite Robin Williams in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” But lacking from the annals of cinema history is the female child genius whose mind-blowing talents jolt theater audiences. Until now.

“Gifted” introduces us to fast-thinking second-grader Mary Adler, a mathematics prodigy with a sharp mind and tongue. Being raised by a single guy named Frank (portrayed admirably by Marvel’s own Captain America Chris Evans), young Mary is quickly pulled in many directions by people espousing to know what’s best for her education and future.

In this year’s best young performance to date, McKenna Grace as Mary completely sells this inspiring story. The actress’ authentic mathematical vibe and convincing childish wit carries this movie from beginning to end. Equally impressive is the subdued, down-to-Earth marine boat mechanic role of Frank—which Evans pulls off with ease. The common denominator tying the film’s other characters all together, Evans effortlessly interchanges between guardian, neighbor, son, lover, greasy nailed mechanic, and owner of a scene-stealing, one-eyed cat named Fred.

Some might incorrectly characterize “Gifted” as a child-custody story, where Frank must defend his decisions regarding Mary’s education in court to ward off the girl’s opportunistic grandmother. But this plotline is much deeper than that when one looks for a common thread throughout. “Gifted” is really about Mary’s mother and her childhood upbringing as she earned comparisons to physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

“Gifted” is an electrifying journey that ponders how a remarkable, one-in-a-billion young mind should be raised. Does each child deserve to be a kid? Or does one’s potential to change the world demand that she leapfrogs age-appropriate education, or participation in kids’ sports, Girl Scouts and other childhood experiences?

Sensational casting and a script that keeps the dialogue believable easily overcomes shaky camera work at times during the film. Director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) masterfully incorporates the slow reveal, concealing several scenes’ importance until the final shots surprise viewers. Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”. 

Grade: A-

“Gifted” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive material. Its running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

(Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com. You may email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com)

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