Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Gigi & Nate’: A Boy, His Monkey, and a Karen  

BY Michael Clark TIMESeptember 12, 2022 PRINT

PG-13 | 1h 54min | DramaFamily | 02 September 2022 (USA)

I’ve been a professional movie critic since 1995, but it took just over 15 years to figure out why I disagreed so often (about 40 percent of the time) with my peers.  I loved many things they hated and vice versa.

In 2011 I received about a dozen emails from readers of the daily paper I wrote for at the time regarding my review for the critically-acclaimed “Margaret,” a naval-gazing art film that I still consider to be the worst movie of the 2010s. Half the letters thanked me for saving them 2 and a half hours of their lives; the other half were from people who ignored my warnings and regretted it.

My point here is that I tend to side more often with mainstream audiences than so-called “informed” critics, and there’s no recent movie more evident of this chasm than “Gigi & Nate.” As of this writing, its critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 14 percent but the audience rating is 94 percent.

Not Top 10—or 25

That said, this movie won’t make my 2022 Top 10 list (or Top 25 for that matter), but it is nowhere near the train wreck the elitist critics are claiming it to be. “Gigi & Nate” won’t win any awards, but it is something that will make you feel better about your fellow man.

Things get underway when Nate (Charlie Rowe, think a cross between Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Broderick) dives from a high peak into a North Carolina lake. As the day progress he begins to become increasingly disoriented and by late afternoon, he develops a migraine headache and the use of his limbs.

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Charlie Rowe as wheelchair-bound Nate Gibson holds his service monkey Gigi as he speaks with Marcia Gay Harden as his mother Claire Gibson in “Gigi & Nate.”(Roadside Attractions)

As it turns out, the impact of the dive forced germ-riddled water into his ears and nose, and Nate is soon diagnosed with meningitis. He will never walk again but, luckily, he is able to escape any permanent mental disorder, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. Over the next four years, Nate (understandably) becomes ever more depressed and even contemplates ending it all.

In order to accommodate Nate, his parents sell their home, move to Nashville, and set him up in a converted green house. He begins physical therapy, and starts to paint (with a brush he holds with his teeth), but it’s a lonely existence.

Getting to Know You

Enter Gigi, a Capuchin monkey trained as a support animal, and Nate’s outlook and attitude take an immediate uptick. Wisely taking their time with the “getting to know you” phase of the story, screenwriter David Hudgins and director Nick Hamm make it clear that the bond between Gigi and Nate won’t take place overnight, which greatly increases the narrative’s believability. Once Gigi gets comfortable and drops her guard, she and Nate become inseparable.

Up until this point, the closest the filmmakers have gotten to including anything resembling a villain is by painting Nate’s father, Dan (Jim Belushi, overdoing it), as an impatient, hotheaded wet blanket who frequently butts heads with his selfless wife Claire (Marcia Gay Harden) over the costs associated with Nate’s care. Nick’s older sister Katy (Josephine Langford) is also not as empathetic as she could be during this stretch.

It’s refreshing to see a movie where not every member of a family is perfect, and their faults are not softened or glossed over. Show me a “perfect” family, and I’ll show you the same one with multiple bleeding ulcers and nervous breakdowns in their future.

With Nate and Gigi getting along like peas and carrots, there’s not much more narrative ground to cover and we’re still only about an hour into the film. This is the point where the filmmakers do a whiplash-inducing 180, and overcorrect to such a degree, they effectively end the movie and start another.

The ‘Karen’

While at a grocery store, Nate and Claire are confronted by Chloe Gaines (Welker White), a complete “Karen” who admonishes them for allowing a monkey in the store. It’s “dangerous” and “a health risk,” she says before exiting in a huff.

The family is visited by a police officer at their home who is clearly on their side and the problem goes away, that is, until video shot at a frat party attended by Nate and Gigi goes viral. Nobody gives Gigi alcohol and she doesn’t attack anyone. The most dangerous thing she does is dance on a table.

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Charlie Rowe as Nate Gibson takes a service money named Gigi in his road to a better life in “Gigi & Nate.” (Roadside Attractions)

This gives Chloe, the head of a militant, PETA-like organization, all the ammunition she needs to begin legal proceedings to separate Nate and Gigi. It’s a kind of clever reworking of the Elvira Gulch, Dorothy Gale, and Toto scenario from the opening act of “The Wizard of Oz.”

However, changing “feel good” to “contentious courtroom” and “radical cause” themes wasn’t the best storytelling move, and it is this awkward tonal shift in mood which obviously bothered some other critics to such a degree that they metaphorically tossed the baby out with the bath water.

Great Twists

To their immense credit, Hamm and Hudgins utilize the final 20 minutes quite well by tossing in two unexpected and thoroughly unpredictable twists.

“Gigi & Nate” won’t change the world, but it will give (most of) you the warm and fuzzies. Sometimes that’s all you need to take away from a movie.

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Promotional ad about a wheelchair-bound Nate Gibson who gets the help he needs from a Capushin money in “Gigi & Nate.”(Roadside Attractions)

‘Gigi & Nate’
Director: Nick Hamm
Stars: Charlie Rowe, Marcia Gay Harden, Jim Belushi, Josephine Langford, Welker White
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Sept. 2, 2022
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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