Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Without the girl the film might have slipped under the radar. With the girl it takes off."

The girl is good. She's better than good. She's a mathematical genius and she's only seven. She's living with her uncle in rented accommodation in Florida. He's a freelance mechanic, working on boats. He used to have a more socially acceptable job in a smarter city but gave it up after his sister killed herself. He doesn't talk much.

She is like electricity. Autistic? That's the easy option. But no. She's one in a trillion. A unique child.

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What happens with unique children, or unique anything, is that everyone wants a part of it, in this case her grandmother.

The girl is called Mary. Her uncle is called Frank. Her grandmother is called Evelyn. Knowing their names is important.

Evelyn (Lyndsay Duncan) is as ambitious for Mary (McKenna Grace) as she was for Mary's mother. She insists she goes to a specialist private school for overachievers where her talents can be nurtured. Frank (Chris Evans) says no. He wants her to remain at the local high school and be treated like every other kid, make friends, have adventures, not cossetted like a delicate flower in the company of intellectual peers. Mary agrees; she wants to stay. Frank promises he will protect her but once the legal eagles have their claws in her future, his promise fades like the morning mist.

And so we have a courtroom drama between mother and son. She has money; he doesn't. She has a team of lawyers; he has a black guy who's experience at this level is limited. Mary's best friend and maternal substitute is Roberta (Octavia Spencer), their landlady. She's black. The racial undercurrent is not emphasised, but exists nevertheless. The best outcome for the child is the smoke that screens prejudice.

Without the girl the film might have slipped under the radar. With the girl it takes off. Grace is ridiculously talented. Child actors from Hayley Mills in the old days to Dakota Fanning recently bring magic to everything they do. Grace has the energy of a firecracker. Up against performances of the highest quality from Duncan and Spencer she rips their tides and stakes a claim to Mary's genius as if it was her own.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2017
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Frank, a single man raising his child prodigy niece Mary, is drawn into a custody battle with his mother.
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Deauville 2017

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