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The drama "Gifted" takes a difficult question — what's in the best interests of a child when that child is talented beyond her years? — and presents all sides with tenderness and humanity.

Frank Adler (played by "Captain America" star Chris Evans) works freelance repairing boats around St. Petersburg, Fla. He lives in a ramshackle bungalow, caring for his 7-year-old niece, Mary (McKenna Grace), and a one-eyed cat, Fred, with some help from his landlady, Roberta (Octavia Spencer).

The movie starts on Mary's first day of school, which she resists because Frank has been homeschooling her up to this point. Frank tells Mary that he's taught her all he can and that she also needs to learn the social skills of being with kids her own age.

In class, Mary reveals to the teacher, Bonnie Stevenson (Jenny Slate), that her math skills are far beyond the average second-grader's — and the school's principal (Elizabeth Marvel) insists she can get Mary a scholarship to a prestigious school for gifted children. Frank resists this suggestion, because he believes such a school would rob Mary of the joys of childhood.

His reasoning is grounded in the story of Mary's mother, Diane — a math genius who was pushed to academic greatness by their mathematician mother, Evelyn ("Birdman's" Lindsay Duncan). Diane committed suicide at 27 and left her then-baby daughter in Frank's care.

Evelyn, living in Boston, gets wind of Mary's math skills and believes she can become the third generation of great mathematicians. Thus begins a courtroom battle for custody.

Director Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer," the Andrew Garfield "Spider-Man" movies) takes Tom Flynn's screenplay (which was on The Black List, a Hollywood compilation of noteworthy unproduced scripts, in 2014) and polishes it into a small gem. With some side trips (such as a romance between Frank and Bonnie), the movie coalesces around its makeshift family — Frank and Mary as a loving parent and child, with Spencer's Roberta acting more the grandmother than her blood relation, Evelyn — and spins out a touching drama about the dangers of conflicting expectations of a child's future.

The movie is blessed with a solid cast, particularly Evans in the lead as a single man who has sacrificed much to do right by his niece. Grace is a scene-stealer, smart and savvy, and possibly the most natural performer her age (she's 10) since Tatum O'Neal.

"Gifted" occasionally takes some predictable turns, notably in the final half-hour. Like a mathematical proof, the solution seems obvious in retrospect — but the way one gets there is what's fascinating.

Twitter: @moviecricket —

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'Gifted'

A man fights for custody of his niece, who proves to be a mathematical genius, in this tender drama.

Where • Area theaters.

When • Opens Wednesday, April 12.

Rating • PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material.

Running time • 101 minutes.

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