Gifted Hands, Remedial Script

The Ben Carson story deserves more than an after-school-special telling.


Somewhere out there is a biopic worthy of the many talents of pediatric neurosurgeon, author and motivational speaker Ben Carson, he of the spectacular surgeries and the bestselling books. The man’s got a story to tell, and in this age of Obama, stories that celebrate the life of black intellect are welcome, indeed.

Too bad that Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, airing Saturday on TNT, is not that biopic.

Oh sure, it’s got a talented cast: Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr. as Carson; Kimberly Elise as his saintly mother and Aunjanue Ellis as his Yalie wife who roots him on from the sidelines. And it’s got the potential for a compelling story line: Socially awkward F student—with a mentally ill, illiterate, single mother—triumphs over all kinds of crazy odds to become the first surgeon to separate Siamese twins joined at the back of the head.

But what Gifted Hands doesn’t have is a good script. Instead, it’s got all the subtlety and complexity of an after-school special. It’s a story about the evolution of a nerd, but it doesn’t ever let us inside his head. Instead, it reduces Carson’s life to a series of obstacles to be leapfrogged over: Can he earn an “A” instead of an “F”? Yes, he can! Can he overcome racist white teachers? Yes, he can! Can he learn to play the dozens, thereby dodging the mockery of his peers? Yes, he can! He even saves lives, too!

The characters don’t speak as much as they pronounce, with the pronouncements sticking to one hackneyed theme: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again: “You can be whatever you want to be” and “You’re the best pediatric neurosurgeon in the world. If you can’t find a solution, no one can.”