I have read a lot recently about how Hollywood is in crisis, how it fails to deliver movies that would engage the audience. How Netflix and other streaming services are stealing the audience from cinemas. And I have read all about how Hollywood is lacking any kind of imagination these days – and frankly, I do agree.
All we get to see in cinemas these days (mainstream cinemas that is) are reboots, remakes, and the never-ending comics adaptations – and as somebody who’s not into comics I keep getting surprised just how many there are! Would have thought they’d run out of material by now… (yeah, yeah, I know very little, I know!). As much as I understand that the superhero genre has a huge audience and generally have nothing against it (just not my cup of tea, with only a few exceptions) one thing is for sure – Hollywood is desperate.
It’s losing its audience and has no idea what to do about it. So in all that desperation it turns into that one known formula – which is however not a magic formula anymore. It keeps making more of the same stuff that used to work. Yes – used to, that’s the important word.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder how can Hollywood be so dumb? I mean… look at all the quality stuff Netflix is doing, take HBO… take all the wonderful indies that never make it into large distribution yet are engaging audiences and present stories that spark discussions. But more importantly, stories that somehow manage to capture the hearts of the audience and make them remember them, feel for them.. perhaps even inspire them. Those are the movies that matter.
Even the Academy has chosen an indie film this year as the Best Film. Isn’t that sending a clear message? So why is Hollywood not listening?
Yesterday, I have watched yet another wonderful film that made me ask all of these questions – yet again.
That film, could easily be a Hollywood product, and as such it would be full of cliché. It would be all very predictable – and very cheesy. However, no matter how close to that line Gifted might be at times, luckily it’s none of those. It’s just a perfect little movie that shows how much good can happen when you pair a good script, with a skilfull director and a great cast.
Yes. Gifted. I honestly hope you’ve heard of the film before. You might have not seen it yet, but I do have a hope that the title rings a bell. Because it should. You should have heard of it, for it’s so so good.
Frank played by Chris Evans (yes, Captain America) is your average “quiet, damaged hot guy” as one of the minor characters describes him so apt. If you are a lady, you’re gonna love this film for the single fact that he’s taking care of his 7-year-old niece Mary – on his own (sexy right?).
Mary (Mckenna Grace), the daughter of Frank’s deceased sister, a mathematics genius, has taken after her genius mother. And as great as that might seem, Frank is doing all he can to ensure she has as normal childhood as possible – something his sister never had. In order to do so, he enrolls her in public school despite strong protests of his neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer). As you can imagine, it doesn’t take too long before Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) realizes that Mary is way ahead of everyone else. That in fact, she is gifted.
And that’s of course where all the trouble starts. When Frank declines an offer of the school’s principal to get Mary a scholarship to a school for gifted children, her grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) appears on the scene. A grandmother Mary has never met.
Evelyn insists Frank is not doing the right thing by refusing to give Mary the education she deserves. And since they can’t agree on what is right for her, Evelyn decides to take things to the court and fight for Mary’s custody.
Typical scenario? Perhaps. But the way it’s executed in this film is very refreshing.
Outside the court room, Frank and Evelyn act like two civilized people. They are probably not the closest mother and son ever, but they do actually care about each other and even joke around. Evelyn even makes it clear she doesn’t want to hurt Frank, she just wants the best for her granddaughter.
Yes, Evelyn is actually not the typical villain here who wants to separate the uncle and niece. And although there is no doubt whom you should be rooting for, the film actually leaves you enough space to decide for yourself if Frank is actually doing the right thing denying Mary the adequate education. Perhaps Evelyn is right?
Mary’s mother has committed suicide not being able to handle all the pressure and Frank is determined to do anything to prevent that from happening to Mary. Yet, Evelyn wants nothing else but to fulfill Mary’s potential (and her own dreams perhaps?!). She wants her to become immortal.
But what’s more important? Being immortal? Being remembered and celebrated after you are gone or enjoy the life you have before it’s all gone…? Where’s the line…?
Where’s the line between letting your child use its full potential and pushing too hard? Is it the genius’ duty to sacrifice his or her life for the greater good? Is their gift in fact more of a curse? (talking of the comics a Spiderman quote comes to mind – “With great power comes a great responsibility” 😉 ). Would these kids really pursue the genius’ path given the choice? We can only wonder. After all, Mary was super bored and frustrated in her public school (“2+2? Really?!”).
The script is so well written and Mark Webb, the director of vastly beloved 500 Days of Summer (one of my favourite films as well) has done a great job here. Balancing on the edge maybe, but not making any of the scenes (not even when Frank and Mary get separated for a while) too cheesy. In fact, what he accomplished here is a total heart-warmer yet so authentic… so relatable. With none of the Hollywood over-powerful drenching scenes. It’s all so low-key. So… natural. Charming. And beautiful. You get to feel real feelings. No hard pushed cliché.
A huge part of that success lies within the cast. Especially Chris Evans is the winning choice here. But Mckenna Grace is absolutely adorable, too, and probably the new Dakota Fanning given her talents. The chemistry between Mary and her uncle portrayed by Evans is undeniable and it just works!
Octavia Spencer in the role of Mary’s favorite neighbour Roberta who probably played a role of her mother of sorts and who’s also Mary’s only friend (because she’s interesting enough=old enough), is a real treat, too.
Oh and let’s not forget the cat! Yes. There’s a cat in the story. One eyed ginger cat called Fred whom Mary saved from the trash (I mean isn’t Mary just the best?!). And that cat is relevant part of the story… In fact, it was a scene invloving Fred (and some other cats) that gave me the most traumatising moment of the whole movie. Thank god Frank turns out to save the day…! (God, I just can’t take these films!)
The whole movie is filled with funny dialogues and Frank’s and Mary’s teasings especially will give you quite a few laughs.
And as for the artistic values of the film (and therefore a total cherry on top) there’s this scene on the beach, where you only see the silhouettes of Frank and Mary – and Mary climbing her uncle like some kind of a monkey (yes, that scene on the picture above), all the while discussing the question of God’s existence… I mean it doesn’t get much better than that.
With all that said, this movie is yet another reason why we should all look outside of Hollywood for good movies these days.
I have read a blog recently whose author claimed that there are simply no interesting films being made and therefore the Hollywood and cinema crisis. I’d like to disagree. I’ve worked 6 years with indie films and I can tell you there’s more talent there, that you can imagine. There are amazing movies being made. Movies that today and everyday keep surprising me by their beauty. By their innovative ideas or outlooks on the topics previously discussed. Unfortunately, you just have to look elsewhere for them – not in Hollywood.
If you do so, you will be quite amazed. And you will agree that it’s not filmmaking that’s at stake here, it’s not filmmaking that’s in middle of a crisis or lacking imagination. It’s the big studios, it’s Hollywood. Unfortunately, Hollywood still has so much power that a regular viewer might feel like there simply are no good movies nowadays if they are not to be found there.
Not true. Next time just try to stop by at your local indie cinema or buy few tickets to a film festival near you. You’ll be surprised. There are films that have something to say and what’s more – they say it well. There are still storytellers that can tell their stories in totally charming ways. And Gifted certainly is one of those films.