Synopsis: A young man’s life is turned upside down because a near-fatal illness leaves him a quadriplegic. Moving forward seems near impossible until he meets his unlikely service animal, Gigi – a curious and intelligent capuchin monkey.
Stars: Marcia Gay Harden, Charlie Rowe, Josephine Langford, Zoe Colletti, Hannah Riley, Jim Belushi, Diane Ladd
Director: Nick Hamm
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: When I go to the movies now, I miss as many previews as possible because they give away so much of the coming attractions they are advertising. (Don’t believe me? Check out the trailers for The Invitation or Ticket to Paradise, and tell me what more the movie has to offer.) If I happen to be subject to the previews, I’ll divert my eyes or cover my ears to absorb as little as I can, but I recently made the exception when I was in an IMAX theater, and the trailer for Gigi & Nate came flashing across the screen. I’m a sucker for a cute monkey movie, and I “ooohed” and “aahhed” along with the rest of the audience there to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I didn’t expect much from the film, which looked serviceable at best, sentimental sap at its worst, but the monkey was in it, so I was sold.
Oh, those previews, they will get you every time!
Gigi & Nate is a perfectly fine film that will reach its target audience and hit them right in the sweet spot. It’s competently made and features an appealing cast that gets the job done without sullying any reputation along the way. It lacks the drive to be more than its plot description and the will to change stories about overcoming significant obstacles from a small screen feel to big screen achievements. Adorable monkeys may get the butts in the seats but using them as a device to entice in a film that questions the morality of using wild animals for service feels a bit tuneless. Throw in the more questionable use of a non-disabled actor to play a person with quadriplegia in a business consistently accused of discrimination, and the family friendliness starts to fade. You start to think less about Gigi & Nate and more about right and wrong.
That’s the critic’s brain diving deep into this account inspired by a real story of a boy who lost the use of his body below the neck after an infection and the service animal who assisted him in finding a new outlook on his life situation. I think we can dial it back a bit and take the movie for what it is, a ‘means-well’ take on an oft-told tale, like Penguin Bloom did just a year ago on Netflix. In that film, Naomi Watts was ‘rescued’ by a cute penguin, but in Gigi & Nate, Charlie Rowe (Rocketman) plays Nate Gibson, who is with his family on a 4th of July celebration at their lake home when he develops an infection that becomes life-threatening.
Flashing forward, we see Nate in a wheelchair living in a specially designed guest cottage behind his parent’s house as he struggles to adjust to his new reality. A suicide attempt leads his tiger mom (a wild-wigged Marcia Gay-Harden, Moxie) to follow through on her promise to pursue locating a service animal for her son, to the dismay of his father (James Belushi, Wonder Wheel). The latter doesn’t understand how a monkey will make things better…until the movie determines its time for him to learn. The arrival of Gigi (played by Allie, the monkey) means changes for the household, which includes another at-home sister, a wise old granny (Diane Ladd, Joy), a dog, and the occasional visit from a college-age sister and her boyfriend whenever an added dose of tension is needed.
It takes longer than you might think to get our title stars together. While we see Gigi at the film’s beginning as she is rescued from a rundown roadside attraction, the monkey goes missing for a decent amount of time as we are introduced to Nate and his family. There’s so much of this groundwork (adding to the film’s lengthy run time) that you almost forget the monkey is part of the mix until she’s introduced about halfway through. Even then, she has little to do, and this is not a movie that trades on riotous passages of monkey mayhem. Unless you count a raucous party scene where Gigi has one too many… It all climaxes in a big legal drama where everyone says the right words most compellingly, yet strangely you feel unmoved.
Not quite a family film, considering its PG-13 rating and adult subject matter, I wonder who the audience for Gigi & Nate will ultimately be. I think there’s value in the story being told, but I wish director Nick Hamm had found a way to use an actual actor in a wheelchair for the role of Nate. It would bring a different authenticity to the piece and give it a purpose that extends past its feeling of sameness. That’s no slight against Rowe, who does what he can with a limited-range role, often upstaged by the monkey (even the CGI one), but at least he has Harden to work with because she improves any scene. Not worth tossing out of the cage, but it won’t stick around long in your heart either.