Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in a scene from the movie Gifted.
Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in a scene from the movie Gifted.

Chris Evans' new film a modest, heartfelt winner

WHILE the box office continues to be dominated by blockbusters, one modestly budgeted movie has managed to penetrate the heart of America.

Gifted, the story of an unorthodox American family struggling to keep itself together, has touched thousands, making almost $25 million (A$31m) in the US.

Much of the film's success comes down to director Marc Webb, who made the leap from indie comedy 500 Days of Summer to The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2012. However, following the release of 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Webb seemingly disappeared from UK cinemas, concentrating on TV shows such as Limitless and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

And although you may conclude the critical reaction and cancellation of the expanded Spider-Man universe may have been the reason, Webb optimistically says that wasn't the case.

"I think I've been pretty busy,” he tells me, citing the delayed release of Gifted, the two TV shows, and work on the upcoming The Only Living Boy in New York as filling his schedule.

Interestingly, Gifted was being filmed when a certain president wasn't a realistic consideration for the post. How times have changed. Of course, people's political opinions were still turbulent across the country, and despite the film's intrinsic links to blue-collar American life - a highly politicised group in recent years - Webb avoided making any political statements.

"The climate when we were making it was quite different,” he says. "Our expectations for what was going to happen into the future were quite different. I'm from Wisconsin, I spent a lot of time in Montana growing up, which is also in the movie. I relate to that world. People look down on it because it's not very sophisticated. It's not that way at all. It's a different world view.”

One of the script's many strengths is the family around which the film is based. Chris Evans - known for his role as Captain America - plays a single man who looks after his incredibly intelligent niece. Their neighbour, played by the ever-wonderful Octavia Spencer, acts as another parental figure.

"That's what happens in central America,” Webb says, explaining why he wanted to develop a feature focused on a non-traditional family. "You have an African-American woman and a white guy, and an adopted daughter and they form a unit. That's a really beautiful thing that I thought was valuable to put into the world.

"It's a sweet movie. It's not a cinematic masterpiece but it celebrates good things. It's got a big heart, and it was fun to make. Audiences really appreciate that and it's actually something quite rare to find in the cinema. It's a different facet of American culture in a really positive way.”

One of the main reasons Gifted connects with audiences so well is because of Evans. As Webb says, the actor comes with "a certain baggage” thanks to Captain America, but that was perfect for the role. "We needed someone who had a little bit of darkness while also having some humour, plus a little sarcasm, all of which fit Chris perfectly.”

Evans, Webb says, has something most other American actors lack at the moment: a certain masculinity. "It's a weirdly tricky thing to find young, male, American actors like Chris. There's Chris Pratt and Chris Pine. Then there are lots of Brits and Australians who are masculine. There's maybe a darker quality to their masculinity. As a director, it's an interesting thing to go out and search for those actors. Maybe Americans come off as a little sensitive, I don't know.”

Webb directed both The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel. The studio was expected to launch a Spider-Verse to compete with Marvel's very own Avengers. However, both projects have since been shelved by the studio, which instead decided to team up with Marvel to produce Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Whether the director returns to big-budget pictures or not, no doubt his optimistic outlook will seep onto the screen.

Gifted is in cinemas now.


Stars: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Mckenna Grace, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan

Director: Marc Webb

Rating: M

Reviewer's last word: A charming cast gets the most out of this engaging, if slightly predictable, drama.

Star profile: Chris Evans

Quirky fact: His mother, a former professional dancer, installed a tap dance floor in the basement of their house. Evans claims to still tap dance to work through anxiety.

Best known for: The Avengers, Fantastic Four.

If you like this movie you'll like these: The Zookeeper's Wife, The Circle, The Space Between Us.

Quote: "If you want to be around in 10 years you've got to do something to differentiate yourself from the pack.”

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