[Screen It]


(2022) (Charlie Rowe, Marcia Gay Harden) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young quadriplegic ends up bonding with his capuchin service animal who helps bring him out of his depression.

Nate Gibson (CHARLIE ROWE) is about to head off to college when he's struck down by meningitis after jumping into a deep body of water in North Carolina. All of that is devastating for his parents, Claire (MARCIA GAY HARDEN) and Dan (JIM BELUSHI), and siblings, Katy (JOSEPHINE LANGFORD) and Annabelle (HANNAH RILEY), along with their grandmother, Mama Blanche (DIANE LADD).

Four years later, Nate is a depressed quadriplegic whose state has put an emotional drain on him and his entire family. But things change when he's introduced to Gigi, a previously rescued capuchin monkey that's been trained as a service animal. She's initially shy around Nate and his family, but eventually comes around and bonds with him, including helping him get through his arduous physical therapy.

But when animal activist Chloe Gaines (WELKER WHITE) spots them together in a grocery store and after Nate sneaks off to a party with Gigi and ends up trending on social media, their time together becomes increasingly uncertain.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

While I am and always shall be a cat person, in my younger days I thought it would be cool and fun to have a chimpanzee as a pet. I'm not entirely sure of the genesis of that notion, but maybe it came from watching old Tarzan movies or the goofy "Lancelot Link" sitcom way back when.

For more than one obvious reason, my parents didn't think much of that idea. One of those was because my mom had some sort of traumatic experience years before when some sort of small monkey in a cage reached out its tiny hands for her. Oh, the terror

Of course, they're wild animals and no matter how tame they might appear or be trained to behave, things could go south quickly. But imagine how they could help out around the house (they're super strong and obviously can easily access top shelves and retrieve things from the attic), especially for those with disabilities.

That said, I don't know of any chimps trained as service animals -- or if they or others in the ape family are even allowed -- but capuchin monkeys have been used in that way. They're small, typically not aggressive, and quite smart, all of which allows them to do some things -- turning pages in books, unscrewing caps, operating some technology, etc. -- that service dogs can't.

And one of them is half of the titular pairing in "Gigi & Nate," a feel-good drama inspired by stories of those types of monkeys helping folks with disabilities. As directed by Nick Hamm from a screenplay by David Hudgins, this nearly two-hour offering starts off quite well -- and is emotionally effective and engaging -- but sort of falls apart in the second half as plot developments rush forward and conflict feels both contrived and shoehorned into the proceedings.

It's the tale of Nate (Charlie Rowe), a typical, fun-loving teenager enjoying the lake home owned by his parents (Marcia Gay Harden and James Belushi) and shared with his siblings (Josephine Langford and Hannah Riley) and their grandmother (Diane Ladd). But when he cliff-jumps into a deep body of water, he unknowingly forces bacteria high up into his nasal passages, resulting in a nasty case of meningitis.

Flashforward four years and he's a depressed and suicidal quadriplegic. Grasping at straws, his mom decides to get him a service animal in the form of Gigi, a formerly rescued and now trained capuchin. Naturally -- at least in terms of serving the plot, which is fairly predictable overall -- the cute monkey (who's both real and at times CGI) is reserved, but eventually comes out of her shell, much like her new human companion.

Things seem good until big bad animal rights activist Chloe Gaines (Welker White) discovers them in a grocery store, and once they appear trending on social media after appearing at a college party, she and her cohorts go into full protest mode. All of which means the young man and his monkey may have to be separated.

Beyond the predictable nature of that, the concept of that plot development is okay, but it and everything associated with such matters feels contrived to pump up the drama. Worse yet, all of it ends up so rushed -- with time compressed in outrageous ways -- that the dramatic stakes end up shortchanged and neutered.

Which is a shame because the first half is decent until the film ends up with a storytelling monkey on its back that it simply can't shake. Cute and heartwarming until it's not, "Gigi & Nate" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Posted September 2, 2022

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