The second is the sweet jump of boyhood joy that takes 17-year-old Nate Gibson off a rocky ledge into a pond. In this easy-going, if an unnecessarily manipulative film about the bond between humans and animals and about the various forms that resilience can take, that fateful second jump will lead the young man and the monkey to each other.
Gigi is rescued by a woman who works for an organization that supplies service animals to people with disabilities. Nate, played by British rising star Charlie Rowe isn’t so fortunate at first. Shortly after that plunge, as he and his family gear up for a Fourth of July party at their vacation cabin, he becomes increasingly lousy.
Based on a screenplay by TV writer David Hudgins, director Nick Hamm takes his time with the fading mystery of what’s ailing the feisty teen. He tries to be his usual charming self, even the lovely local girl Lori on a boat trip, but as the day goes on, his head swims and then bangs.
At dinner, Nate feels feverish, and his ears ring. He collapses in the bathroom. His terrified family raced him to the hospital. Nate’s brain is swelling. Claire demands an airlift to a bigger medical center in Nashville; They consider their bad fears. The disease is eighty percent calamitous. Nate will be completely paralyzed if he survives.
When Harden puts one of those little blankets over her head in the hospital lobby and weeps, it’s a gesture both stunning and subtle in its parental truths. Numerous, affecting details in this youth-focused film come via its older performers, including Diane Ladd as Nate’s tippling grandmother, Mama Blanche. Nate leaves the hospital as a person with quadriplegia, and the film is refreshingly wise in its glimpses of him navigating his disability in an accessibility-averse world.
Even so, you don’t have to be an accountant to recognize that many of the devices and resources at the Gibsons’ disposal are out of reach for most parents who love their kids just as much as Claire and Dan, and the film is slow to acknowledge the economic impact of the accident.
Played by simian performer Allie, occasionally enhanced with CGI effects, Gigi’s expressive face is playful and empathetic in equal measure. Although Gigi is initially hesitant, she and Nate develop a tell-tale bond that comes under fire when strident animal rights activist
Chloe puts their relationship to the test, first in a supermarket and then in court. Later, when social media posts show Nate and Gigi at a party and stir up the ‘Primates are not pets,’ we are outraged again. Nate never seems remorseful about endangering Gigi.
That almost destroys the power of an earlier, richer scene where Nate’s younger sister Annabelle lets him have it in a way that makes it clear that Nate’s accident also changed the trajectories of his siblings. At the end of the sun-dappled days of ‘Gigi & Nate,’ we can’t help but root for Nate and his monkey best friend.