Gigi and Nate Synopsis: Nate’s (Charlie Rowe) life is turned upside down after he is left a quadriplegic. Moving forward seems near impossible until he meets his unlikely service animal, Gigi – a curious and intelligent capuchin monkey. Based on a true story.
Before heading off to his first term at college, the happy-go-lucky teenager Nate suddenly falls ill with a life-threatening illness. Adjusting to quadriplegic life brings Nate a slew of new challenges, but his treatment process receives a ray of hope in the form of a monkey service animal in Gigi and Nate.
Genuine tales of hope and perseverance amidst hardship are a much-needed cinematic staple. At their best, feel-good stories like American Underdog and the underrated 2012 indie The Sessions explore their subject matter with an eye for authenticity and compassion.
Unfortunately, Gigi and Nate showcase the other end of the genre’s spectrum. Director Nick Hamm and Screenwriter David Hudgins admirably infuse their true-story approach with sincerity and postive energy. Neither force can compensate for a maudlin interpretation of a moving true story.
Hamm, a veteran craftsperson behind psychological thrillers like The Hole and Godsend, misguidingly overplays his hand at every turn. Every scene screams for viewers’ sympathies with generic score choices and a heavy-handed sense of audience manipulation. The overbearing tactics are an unnecessary inclusion to a story that boasts an inherently human pulse. Instead of trusting the affable bond between Nate and Gigi, Hamm morphs the real-life yarn into the equivalent of a thankless Hallmark card vacant of nuance.
The screenplay suffers from similar issues. After a potent first act that descends into Nate’s life-changing journey, Hudgins often loses his way as he incorporates a myriad of plot threads. One arc that fixates on protestors who oppose the enactment of monkeys as service animals feels especially queasy as the film simplifies the complex issue into a laughably stern finger-wag at the protestors. All the empty noise ultimately distracts from the core relationship between Nate and Gigi, with the film lacking the focus to let audiences truly marinate in their unique connection.
Gigi and Nate’s shortcomings are a letdown considering the film’s dedicated cast. Star Charlie Rowe imbues charisma and vulnerability into Nate as the character undertakes a challenging transformation. Supporting players Marcia Gay Harden, Josephine Langford, and Jim Belushi also infuse much-needed humanity into their roles as Nate’s family members. The lived-in chemistry established by the ensemble becomes an unfortunate missed opportunity as none of the actors receive the necessary time or material to make an impression.
Gigi and Nate is too affable to detest, but the film never provides its true story premise with the poignance it deserves.
Gigi and Nate opens in theaters on September 2.
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