During a solid portion of its runtime, Gigi and Nate at least it fulfills what it promises: a young man and his monkey; to be more specific, a recently quadriplegic young man and his service monkey. When it comes to star Charlie Rowe alone, neither paralyzed nor American, but convincingly playing both, interacting with Allie the monkey (and occasional digital doubles), we get a compelling portrait of exactly how these trainable capuchins interact with humans who can barely move. . Or at least they pretend they can barely move; Rowe was careful never to present himself as capable in front of Allie, to make sure she believed he needed help.
Surely Rowe isn’t so super famous that director Nick Hamm couldn’t find an actual disabled actor for the role, and for a movie that prides itself on hiring lots of extras with disabilities, that casting choice feels particularly questionable. That huge problem aside, Rowe’s interactions with Allie are still considerably charming, and you’ll (probably) believe that a man and a monkey can be the best of friends.
Unfortunately, it takes a good 30 minutes for the movie to even mention the notion of a service animal. First, he travels to North Carolina, a detail reiterated by both a sign reading “North Carolina” and an on-screen title. Here, Nate (Rowe) makes animal noises on top of a cliff. He performs an impressive somersault as he dives, emerging apparently unscathed, but his hearing begins to fade almost immediately. Before long, the meningitis begins to cause seizures and eventually paralysis.
David Hudgins’ script does a poor job of detailing all the ramifications of his condition. In one scene, he growls and apparently doesn’t speak; in the next, he is smiling and speaking normally. Later, he gains mobility in his arms, suggesting that his condition may improve. If this is how meningitis really works, it would be nice to know, because on screen it feels like a magical movie disease whose symptoms flicker according to the needs of the plot.
With Gigi the monkey, Nate recovers remarkably quickly from suicidal to good-natured, despite a few throws of poo. However, it’s a compelling testament to the substance of Gigi and Nate’s relationship that when he takes her to a party where she’s in real danger, she’s heartwarming. Unfortunately, the final stretch of the film turns into a riff on God is not dead, though PETA, er, “AFAB,” becomes their cartoon villain in court rather than liberal academia. Nate and his family are soon confronted by goofy animal rights activists, forcing them to defend themselves against accusations of cruelty and treating an intelligent primate as a slave. (Isn’t that how the apes arose to rule the planet?)
In reality, the battle that this film describes is already lost. The ADA has not accepted capuchin monkeys as service animals since 2010, and the organization that trained them closed last year. Gigi and Nate it’s loosely inspired by a true story, but that technically doesn’t apply anymore. However, there is never any indication that we are looking at a period piece, although it does feature a four-year time jump. In the meantime, if you’re wondering if this wants or notbeing an inspiring story will end unhappily, you are misjudging the kind of movie it is.
While Rowe and Allie are clearly the stars here, they’re surrounded by some entertaining veterans. Marcia Gay Harden, as Nate’s mother, vividly exudes the “suffering” quality; Jim Belushi, as her father, gets into at least one sarcastic slow standout. applaud. Then there’s Diane Ladd, a vodka-drinking grandmother who plays so convincingly, you’d think she was drinking between takes, too. There’s not much these seasoned actors can do to save a movie like this, the kind where Rowe’s voiceover delivers chestnuts like “We thought we were rescuing her…” Ultimately, if you paid to see Gigi and Nateyou could be the one who needs the rescue.