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Gigi & Nate Movie Review

While the service dog is the most well-known service animal, capuchin monkeys have a forty year history of providing assistance to people with physical disabilities. The dexterity and intelligence of the monkeys have often seen them matched to people with paraplegia and quadriplegia. While comedies like Friends, The Simpsons, and Malcom in the Middle have used capuchin and human interactions for comedic purposes, it is the film Gigi & Nate that finally gives us a sincere look at the world of helper monkeys.

The film opens with the Gibson family vacationing in North Carolina. It is there that Nate Gibson (Charlie Rowe) catches amoebic meningitis after diving into the nearby lake. While Nate manages to survive his illness, he is now quadraplegic and in frequent pain. His parents (Marcia Gay Harden and Jim Belushi) retrofit their Nashville home to accommodate Nate’s new physical needs, but it is Gigi, the capuchin monkey, who finally helps Nate deal with his emotional trauma.

The film starts as one would expect, giving emotional and inspirational “triumph over adversity” vibes that are typical “movie of the week” fare. The acting, however, elevates this beyond classic television movie standards. The entire cast delivers strong performances, with Diane Ladd, as the grandmother who likes her vodka a little too much, being particularly delightful. Charlie Rowe and Allie, the capuchin monkey who plays Gigi, however, are the true standouts of the film. Watching their bond form is both adorable and moving.

The film speeds by most of the early days of Nate’s illness and recovery, with minimal exposition about how challenging the process was, both physically for Nate and financially for his family. Instead of spending necessary time on those struggles, the film heads too quickly into the central conflict of helper monkeys versus animal rights organizations.

The second half of the film also shifts the emotional focus. Instead of showcasing the bond between Nate and Gigi, as well as the efforts for Nate to gain a level of normalcy and independence, we now get a story about the ethics and politics of helper animals. The issue-motived switch feels particularly odd knowing that the real-life organization who helped to place these capuchin monkeys is now solely focused on assisting those animals already with families. New helper monkeys are no longer being trained. The film starts out strong, only to end with a whimper thanks to the repositioning of the narrative.

What Gigi & Nate does have going for it, beyond the cast, is strong family movie night energy. It’s a heartwarming, and emotional story that will be appropriate for a variety of ages. There is some mild language and alcohol use, and the politics of the story might be confusing for the very young, but this is a film that will be unobjectionable to most.

You can catch Gigi & Nate in theaters on September 2, 2022.

About Gigi & Nate

Rating: PG-13 (Language|Some Thematic Material)
Runtime: 1h 54m

Nate Gibson’s life is turned upside down after he suffers a near-fatal illness and is left a quadriplegic. Moving forward seems impossible until he meets his unlikely service animal, Gigi – a curious and intelligent capuchin monkey – who helps Nate find what he needs most: hope.

As The Bunny Hops®