Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We are not a big movie family, but I was intrigued when trailers from the movie Gifted was shared in gifted communities I frequent. People were wondering how the movie will address a "hot" topic of giftedness and parenting of gifted children. This weekend we all could see the movie through a courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures, and I want to share what we thought about it.

It Was a Well Acted Movie!

It was a pleasure to see Chris Evans in a role where he does not have to run around in a ridiculous outfit and have an emotional depth of a comic book character. He is great in a role of a thoughtful and somewhat conflicted guardian of his gifted niece Mary. Mckenna Grace delivers a convincing performance as an adorable future of mathematics. I personally thought that the most complex role was of Lindsay Duncan who is playing a subtly deranged grandmother and she pulled it off brilliantly.

Spot the Stereotype

1. Tiger Moms Ruin Their Children Lives

The movie is attempting to address the dilemma that every parent faces regardless of where their kids' gifts lie and how strong their gifts are. How much do we "push" our children to develop their gifts and how much do we try for them to be "normal kids"? Alas, Gifted answer to this question appears to be very stereotypical - a "tiger" grandmother in the movie denied her genius daughter a normal childhood, rejected her attempts to have a life outside mathematics and eventually drove her to suicide. It's pretty hard to miss who the "bad guy" here is from fairly early in the movie.

2. Giftedness is Genetic

This one might actually be correct, but the movie is driving the point home by featuring three generations of mathematically gifted women, each struggling differently with the burden of their gift.

3. Gifted Kids Need Age Peers for "Socialization"

The movie centers around a gifted first grader Mary who is a "one in a billion" in her level of giftedness - a child who devours math books and solves differential equations in her head. The math books are presumably supplied by Mary's uncle Frank who "taught her everything he knows" by the time she turned 7. Considering her level, he went "all the way" in math himself. Frank homeschools Mary for several years when she apparently has little contact with kids her age. Then suddenly he decides to send her to... wait for it... the first grade of a "normal" public school. Why did she suddenly need age peers? Obviously, because screenwriters said so, but research shows that profoundly gifted children like Mary have a real trouble connecting to age peers and usually look for company in people older or younger than their own age.

4. We Should Not "Separate" Gifted Kids

This is what the main character says when a public school principal offers to arrange a full scholarship for Mary in a private school for gifted. At this point I groaned and my daughter (who, by the way, is going to a regular public school) loudly exclaimed, But he is an idiot! Yes, this idea of integrated classrooms is ridiculously popular now. No, differentiation still does not work. Putting a child like Mary in a regular classroom is a huge disservice to a child regardless what the "feel good" movie is telling you. It's really the same as having Michael Phelps train in a kiddie pool.

5. Gifted Kids Can Be "Normal"

Mary has her intense moments in the movie, but many parents of gifted children, especially profoundly gifted children, know very well that giftedness has its dark side. Mary seems pretty comfortable in her skin and confident without visible social awkwardness, meltdowns, sensory quirks and other challenges. The end of the movie suggests that she can sit in a university classroom and then an hour later enjoy finger games with her girl scout buddies. I wish life were really so simple for gifted kids!

Yet, There Are Moments of Truth

I don't want to make it sound like this movie is not worth seeing. We all found it enjoyable, and there were moments that really rang true to me - especially the one when Frank worries about "ruining Mary's life". We all want the best for our children. We want to protect and nurture them, to teach them kindness and respect for others. We also want to nurture their talents and help them reach their full potential. We are often faced with parenting dilemmas, albeit not as life-changing as in the movie. We make choices, we stand for what we believe in, and at night we worry and wonder. And only future will tell whether our choices were right.

Your Turn

If you watched the movie Gifted, what did you think of it?

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3 comments:

JL said...

After seeing so many reviews, I'm inclined to wait until it comes on Netflix to see it. As for stereotypes, there are some truths to them which is why they are stereotypes. There are prodigies that burn out due to overbearing parents. There is a need for gifted peers to be with other gifted peers without being isolated from the rest of the population. Gifted kids can be "normal" especially if the child is adaptable and has great social skills. But many also do not fit this profile and struggle with depression, anxiety, etc. from lack of fit. Mary sounds like she's an extreme outlier which makes it even harder to find a good fit but seems to possess endearing qualities of a child that makes her lovable. She sounds like one in a million!

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I dislike the idea of anyone driving anyone else to suicide. Can caregivers contribute? Absolutely, but I doubt you could find a single case where they were the only factor. I suspect the dark side of giftedness is also to blame, in part. Among other factors...

Ticia said...

I didn't go see it, but that's more because we don't see a lot of movies in the theaters. I figured I might catch it at the dollar theater, but we'll see.

It sounds like it's one of those "good for starting conversations movies."