Movie Review: Gifted Is About Finding the Right Balance

I saw the new movie Gifted and was surprised at how well I liked it. From the previews it was hard to tell if this movie would be an accurate portrayal of giftedness. I thought it would be an unrealistic cliche of a genius kid; a cute, family-friendly flick found on cable TV. Not so. I found myself frequently nodding in agreement at how true the characters and feelings were. A lot of us teared up because we’ve experienced similar situations in real life.

Gifted is a scripted drama, not a documentary. Mary (McKenna Grace) is a 7-year old prodigy. She is being raised by her single uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) threatens to separate them so she can send Mary to a prestigious private gifted school in a different town because she believes Mary’s intelligence to be “one in a billion”.

Being a prodigy, Mary is an extreme version of giftedness.  Still, the messages are loud and clear about asynchrony and the need for a uniquely balanced and accepting environment.

Many themes and dynamics depicted in Gifted are realistic for gifted children, their families, and their schools. Here are a few:

Asynchrony – “People my age are boring,” said Mary. She relates better to adults than to kids. Mary is homeschooled before attending a public elementary school. After a lot of trial and error, in the last scene Mary is in college physics class, wearing her Brownie uniform, and is afterward dropped off at the playground to be with her age-classmates. This was the best balance for her. Her extreme asynchrony requires that she be in various ability and interest groupings in order to have all of her academic and social needs met.

Intellectual Overexcitabilities – Mary is hyper-focused on math, her area of passion, and tries to get as much as possible out of it, with the constant need to know more. At one point Frank drags her outside to play when she can’t stop working on math equations.

Emotional Overexcitabilities – Mary has intensified feelings of fairness and trust and acts on her convictions even when it isn’t the acceptable or easy thing to do. She fights with a child who bullies another child on the bus, and she corrects adults when she feels wronged.

Expectations – Mary is told by one adult to “try being a kid.” Another adult says they should “dumb her down to a decent human being.” This movie made me think about what our responsibility is to gifted kids. Is it to nurture their potential to the fullest or to provide a “typical” childhood? And, at what cost? Is it realistically possible for both to happen at once? Anyone who has raised a gifted child knows the complexity this causes.

Gifted shows how various family members and educators have differences of opinion about what Mary needs. For when a child is identified as gifted it impacts everyone in their world, not just the student. It is a label that carries a lot of weight and affects a lot of people. Frank’s biggest fear raising Mary was that he’d “mess it up.” How many of us as parents of gifted kids have struggled with the same fear?

In deciding who she wants to raise her, Mary says to her uncle, “You wanted me before I was smart”. Gifted kids are complex individuals who need to be loved and accepted for who they are and not for what they can do. If our goal is to have a happy child, then as parents we might be charged with piecing together different opportunities in order to find the right balance. Their happiness will be the best indicator of whether or not we got the balance right.

A final note. Being gifted isn’t only about academics and grades. Actress McKenna Grace is a gifted young actress who does a brilliant job playing Mary.

I rate Gifted 4 out of 5 stars. I’ll be seeing it again. If you’re raising a gifted child or work with gifted students you should see this movie.

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