Director Nick Hamm — who won the BAFTA with the short film The Harmfulness of Tobacco, and directed successful films such as The Journey and Driven — returns with an upcoming coming-of-age drama. Gigi & Nate is based on a true story of a quadriplegic and a capuchin monkey, penned by screenwriter David Hudgins.
The narrative brings forth the empathetic communication amongst Earthlings: a quadriplegic human being (Nate) and a service monkey (Gigi). It all begins during the age of innocence when Nathaniel Gibson (Charlie Rowe), an athletic and free spirited teenager, is ready to head off to college. During Independence Day he spends a day at the lake with his friends. This episode changes the course of his life forever. Nate leaps off a cliff and plunges into the waters where he contracts primary amoebic meningoencephalitis — a rare infection that forces him to struggle between life and death. When he wakes up he comes to terms with his new existence: a paralysis of all limbs that seems void of any hope for his future.
After a few years the daily routine of the entire family has changed, adapting to Nate’s new condition. His mother Claire (Marcia Gay Harden) has given upon on her career as a painter to tend to him day and night; his father Dan (Jim Belushi) is the sole breadwinner; his sister Katy (Josephine Langford) as a senior in college feels it is her turn and responsibility to look after Nate; his younger sister Annabelle (Hannah Alligood) still lives at home and helps as much as she can; his grandmother Blanche (Diane Ladd) is also an active member of the household. Even the structure of the house has been transformed to accommodate Nathaniel’s physical needs. But psychologically the twenty-tree year old is willing to let go of life, seeing no future ahead, until the family decides to get him a service animal: a creature trained to respond to his most basic needs, a female rescue capuchin monkey named Gigi.
Gradually the bond between Nate and this clever primate not only lifts his spirits, but allows him to make progress with his physical movement exercises. Gigi goes wherever Nate goes, even at the supermarket where he rekindles with Lori (Zoe Colletti) — a shop employee whom he had met during the summer of his accident. Yet, the new acquired serenity of the Gibsons is jeopardised when a cantankerous animal activist Chloe Gaines (Welker White), sees Gigi and Nate at a grocery store and argues that monkeys shouldn’t be treated as pets. The situation precipitates when photos of Gigi and Nate at a party with alcohol go viral and Chloe pushes to bring her case to court. During the trial Nate desperately tries to convince the judge that he needs Gigi to survive. Unfortunately, the verdict is against him but there is ultimately a twist of events that provides the coveted happy ending.
Gigi & Nate is an excruciating emotional ride. However, the heart-wrenching journey is exceptionally uplifting. This story is not only a tale about resilience, but about the strength and mutual growth that occurs when two creatures are empathetic to one another. In this story the non-verbal communication occurs between a primate and a member of the human race. Words aren’t necessary to explain the physical pain and psychological humiliation that perturb Nate. Gigi is an attentive observer and perceives all that he feels. She responds in a playfully maternal manner, by running to his aid on a day to day basis. Gigi helps Nate turn the pages of a book he might be reading, or helps him scratch an itch, and little by little she shows him how life can be worth living once more. He acquires a new purpose because this clever, committed and devoted monkey needs him too.
The entire cast is extraordinary, starting from actor Charlie Rowe playing the titular quadriplegic, to all the actors playing the Gibson family members who bring a sympathetic energy to their characters. Even Allie, the monkey in the role of Gigi, demonstrated such star power that the original title of the film, Evolution of Nate Gibson, was changed to shine a light on her in the billing.
Filmmaker Nick Hamm majestically portrays the unity and strength of a family, focusing on the truth of what a situation of this kind might entail and the consequent emotions it may trigger. Hardships and sacrifices intertwine with hope and spiritual rebirth. Recovery is what is ultimately achieved, as Nate finally finds a way to build his future from where his life had been interrupted.
The tragic yet comedic adventures of Gigi & Nate, will move audiences to tears by showing how a love story between a human being and an animal can inspire us all to see the world in a whole new way.
Final Grade: A