Chris Evans puts Captain Americaning to one side to play Frank, the guardian of a gifted young girl Mary, played by McKenna Grace.
Mary is an exceptionally talented mathematician and when we meet her, Frank is struggling to decide upon the best option for her future. She’s been homeschooled her whole life by Frank in his efforts to give her a ‘normal’ upbringing. Frank tries to shun the forces that would have him send Mary to a gifted school. He doesn’t want her to be consumed by work. He wants her to play and make friends and be a normal kid. He thinks by sending her down the ‘gifted’ path she’d miss out on having real life experiences. For reasons I won’t spoil here, Frank has good reason to be suspicious of putting too much pressure on people to succeed.
On the other side of the fence is Mary’s grandmother Evelyn, played by Lindsay Ducan. Yes, she’s got an english accent and yes she is the antagonistic force of the film. Quelle surprise. If she could grow a moustache, I’m sure she would and she most definitely would be twirling it. Evelyn is so single minded in a film which otherwise handles these big parenting decisions with a refreshing sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, that it’s almost impossible to empathise with her, which is a tad disappointing.
But the film ultimately isn’t really about a gifted girl and where she ends up. Taking note of the success of the Fast and Furious franchise, this film is all about family and relationships. It’s about Frank accepting himself as a father and about Mary learning that she is just a normal kid. The complicated relationship between Frank and Mary is the heartbeat of the film and the strength of their bond almost makes the disappointing aspects of this film irrelevant.
While the writing is predictable and there are some plot elements in there purely to drive the story to where it needs to be, the film’s real strength is in its performances. Chris Evans plays Frank with a charismatic blend of stubbornness and uncertainty and McKenna Grace is charming and funny. The two share most of their screen time together and their relationship is a joy to watch. It’s funny, warm, touching and yet heartbreaking and moving.