The idea of bringing in an indie darling from their breakthrough hit to the realm of big budget blockbusters more or less started with Sony putting Marc Webb in the director’s chair for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 after he hit big with (500) Days of Summer a few years earlier, and the whole enterprise turned out to be the mixed bag you’d expect it to be. Of course, there’s always the claim that any filmmaker will ultimately be held back by studio demands when they should instead be allowed to flourish. This is where the smaller projects come in, in which filmmakers can really stretch their muscle with a story they’re passionate about without having to worry about suiting corporate checklists. Since we have the crimes against humanity known as the Amazing Spider-Man films behind us, perhaps Marc Webb will finally show that he has something to offer with his new film, Gifted.

The film follows Frank (Chris Evans), a working class guy who has been raising his niece, Mary (Mckenna Grace), ever since his sister committed suicide when Mary was a baby. The thing is, Mary is a child prodigy, and is being sought out by her grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), so that she can take Mary to a place where she can embrace her intelligence and thrive. However, Frank insists Mary stay with him, since his sister would’ve wanted Mary to live a normal life, and just be a kid.

I wanna get this done quick, so I’ll cut to the chase, Gifted is pretty bad, actually, it’s awful. But it’s bad in a way that isn’t very obvious, it’s competently made, the performances are fine, Mckenna Grace’s ability to pull an “aww” for every precious thing she says out an audience whether they want to or not is kind of incredible. The film really suffers in its core, in the sense that the very essence of its drama never fully rings true whatsoever, rendering the entire thing void of any resonance or emotional honesty. And that makes the film beyond frustrating when the supposed “conflict” could be so easily resolved had the characters not been selfish morons. It shouldn’t take me two seconds to come to the same conclusion that the characters find after an hour and 40 minutes of contrived melodrama. Because nothing is rings true, it becomes damn near impossible to empathize with the characters, they come off as thin, and unrelatable. Any attempts from the actors to breathe some life into this material simply ends up futile.

So, if the characters at the center of this character drama feel false and two-dimensional, it pulls the curtains on each manipulative move by the filmmakers to get a reaction out of you. Each plot development feels cheap, convoluted, unnecessary, or just plain misguided. Everything feels so mechanical, as if the film was made by robots doing their best to draw an emotional reaction out of an audience without even having a basic understanding on how human emotions work. Nothing feels genuine. It all feels clunky, flat, and tiresome, without an ounce of inspiration or creativity to be found anywhere.

This is gonna be a quick review, since there isn’t much else to go on here. There’s a possibility of some interesting subtext about the story of a gifted girl being pulled in one direction by a working class father figure and in another direction by the rich, intellectual grandmother being a metaphor for the conflict in filmmakers trying to stay true to their roots while also serving bigger (i.e. corporate/studio) interests, but it’s so surface level and limp that it doesn’t invite any exploration. Sure, it could be seen as harmless enough, but frankly, there isn’t an ounce of anything interesting, just recycled trash. Nothing here works on a fundamental level, no amount of pretty faces or cutesy moments is gonna do anything to fix it. So, I guess we can now officially consider (500) Days of Summer a fluke.