Better Late than Never.
(Here’s my take on why the post-credit scene mattered than the post-surgical procedure but how it also distorted how good-looking genius can be.)
Beauty and beast and brains in between. Chris Martinez’s newest film THE GIFTED has its own way of tickling the funny bone, albeit flirting with it until it reveals its surprisingly good intentions. A comedy about two genius ugly-ducklings and their metamorphosis to skin-grafted swans, The Gifted isn’t made smarter by its erudite leads who are caught in a cat-fight of insecurities and engrossed in the overly onscreen search for a paramour. Script-wise, it misses to integrate witty puns in the dialogue (other than bragging Calculus) and doesn’t really delve into the cerebral psyche of its characters. Without the genius DNAs of Aica (Cristine Reyes) and Zoe (Anne Curtis), the film will just be a worn-out romantic comedy that will only be made memorable by Curtis’ ultra-revealing gown (or not). But in the end, The Gifted proves that it’s smarter than viewers’ prejudice by flipping entirely what everyone knew for the past two hours. Genius and gorgeousness are not, after all, the perfect equation to become gifted. But rather, having someone to accept the ‘real’ you and (which I think is more important) wholeheartedly accepting one’s self.
Unexpectedly serving more EQ than IQ, The Gifted is a surprisingly well-meaning comedy that goes deeper than the perfectly sculpted bodies of its leads. Despite some complaints on characterization and depiction of the two geniuses (which I’ll touch into later), it somehow made sense to the film’s ‘origin story’. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Other than being Zoe’s pet snake to become Aica’s apple of the eye, Sam Milby (in a dual role) put on his nerdy self as the unreliable narrator who immortalizes his insecurities through his penned book entitled, “The Gifted”. The post-credit confrontation scene was not just a satisfying answer to his fictional revenge. The referred book is written by a man who has his own flawed ideals of a woman but the society’s expectations of ‘beauty, brains, and beast’ come into play, and having comedy as the genre made the theme more realistic. It may not have been self-aware, but the film criticizes how people overshadow good-looking to genius and how they isolate one from the other. People would rather guffaw at an ugly person but not laugh to an intelligent pun. They would rather take notice of a woman wearing sexy clothes than listen to another with a sexy mind. And as seen in the film, a smart but physically unremarkable woman will only be revered if she goes under the needle (because if you’re smart, you wouldn’t want to stay ugly for the rest of your life).
But Joe (the real Zoe) and Maica (the real Aica) need not to submit to society’s notion of beauty and the consolation of brains for the lack of it. The Gifted gets a high mark on its moral story – these girls need not to alter themselves to be accepted by society. Unlike their fictitious counterparts, Joe and Maica are treasured by their classmates, except for Milby’s insecure, perennial third placer. Someone may have been born with the superlatives in the physical and mental aspects but attitude makes and breaks likability. Goodness still stand-out from good looks and genius. As for the two leads, growing up comfortably in their own skin is an honest message for accepting one’s flaws. Joe and Maica are each other’s gift, just like the many girls and women who would not let insecurity bring them down.
Before and After.
The Gifted may have been a more meaningful comedy but its good-naturedness doesn’t absolve how it handled the physiology of its female characters. The conscious nitpicking of attractive actress for a homely and clever role, and have her stripped off of prosthetics and fat suits to wear her own celebrated face and figure post-surgical procedure, is a defective depiction of a smart female protagonist whose platform only propagates the stereotype instead of fighting it. My real question is, ‘Why can’t we have an intellectual female who is more conscious of making change in her society than changing her look or body? Why can’t we have an intellectual female who doesn’t have to be encumbered by prosthetics and instead act in her true form? Why are physical traits more fleshed out than focusing in the moral and intellectual identity of its female character?’ I was actually disappointed when Curtis and Reyes have to wear an exaggeration of their geeky roles (one whose body weight is as heavy as her mind while the other is facial fiasco). A usual comedic approach is to make fun of what is seen outside without bothering what is inside. The Gifted can still be comedy if it is more invested as a character study (it could have addressed the battle between the head and the heart, or how their geniuses level in awkward and clichéd situations). But instead of shrewd characterizations, the film relied on been-there done-that costumes to make the lead characters ‘look’ smart but don’t really act like one. And that’s not actually smart at all.
It could have been a riotous showdown of Athenas but The Gifted pitted Aphrodites who are caught up in fashion-feud and cosmetic-clash, thus meandering its creative potential. Although the post-credit scene was a pleasant surprise, it willingly stumbles on mainstream treatment that tends to be more conscious of its message at the expense of a sensible and logical narrative. Dubbing itself as a dark comedy, The Gifted doesn’t even have a firm grasp of the sub-genre (there are other ways it can be dark or daring but the plot device of gun possession is as unnecessary as the film stepping into dark comedy) and nor understand the humor of it; similar to the miscalculations on the writing and portrayal of its genius characters. The movie’s most resonant and only saving grace is the post-credit scene which some viewers may have even missed but without it, what is the point of the film?
To argue between what The Gifted is to what it is not is tricky (I tried to lay the line between the moral story and the blind spot, but it’s for you to decide which is more impactful) but I wished the film was smart enough to consider the many themes it can address given its playful premise. A female lead whose intelligence is her identifying trait is rarely seen onscreen but instead of exploring how and what makes her smart, they are treated as clichéd characters that completely sidelined their mental prowess. The Gifted ends with a sincere toast to a strengthened friendship and cultivated self-esteem but it fails to empower the true image of a good-looking woman in its many aspects. Because being beautiful is not always about how one appears, but on how she thinks, speaks, and acts; and how gracious she is in accepting and conquering criticisms, like this film review.
Produced by: Viva Films
Release date: September 3, 2014