In Marc Webb’s touching family melodrama, ten year old Mckenna Grace plays the precocious Mary Adler, the “gifted” daughter of a deceased maths genius.
Mary lives in a small town near Tampa, Florida, with her boat mechanic uncle Frank (Chris Evans); her only friends are their neighbour Roberta (Octavia Spencer) and a one-eyed ginger cat named Fred. For reasons that emerge during the film, Frank is adamant that Mary should live as ‘normal’ a life as possible and enrols her in a ‘normal’ school so that she can learn to get along with kids her own age.
But, as his estranged mother, Evelyn (brilliantly and icily portrayed by Lindsay Duncan) insists: “She’s not normal…treating her as such is negligence on a grand scale.”
Of course things unravel as an escalating power play within the family, and between the education and legal authorities threaten to tear their lives apart…
There’s a wonderful chemistry between Frank and Mary; they often debate like adults; with Mary at one point questioning the existence of God with searing logic… yet we are reminded of her tender age in poignant moments that a lesser director would have served up with ladlefuls of schmaltz … instead Webb drives home a series of powerful punches with a lightness of touch.
Comedian Jenny Slate shines as Bonnie, Mary’s well-meaning schoolteacher, as does Octavia Spencer as Roberta, Mary’s neighbour and surrogate mother figure.
An unexpectedly terrific and heart warming film.