Telling the amazing true story of Nate Gibson, Gigi and Nate tells the story of a young man (Charlie Rowe) who is left a quadriplegic as the result of a tragic accident. Although his family does their best to help him, Nate is left broken and bitter. However, his recovery takes an amazing turn when he encounters his new service animal, a capuchin monkey named Gigi. Inspired by Gigi’s support, Nate begins to see that, despite his circumstances, there is much more life to live.
Telling the true story of young paraplegic Nate Gibson, Gigi and Nate is a heartwarming story about man’s unique and healing relationship with animals. Directed by Nick Hamm, Nate is a charming tale but fails to land any real punch. Rather than exploring the most difficult aspects of Nate’s psychology after the accident, the film chooses instead to emphasize the joy that he finds in his beloved primate. While this is not a bad thing, one can’t help but wonder feel as though the film could’ve said more to the struggle that this young man endured.
Admittedly, performances within the film are fairly solid. With courage and strength, Marcia Gay Harden does a wonderful job with the material that she’s given it off and holds the film together. As Nate, Rowe brings a quiet bravery that balances his bubbling anger. (Even Jim Belushi does fine in his limited role.)
However, having said this, the greatest issue with Nate lies with the writing. While the film is charming, one can’t help but feel like it neglects the attention to the soul of its characters that they deserve. Even though Gigi herself is a delight and the characters can be engaging, the film lacks real substance and issues such as Nate’s severe mental health struggles feel like an afterthought.
Further, the complexities of the arguments regarding service animals feel like a missed opportunities. Exploring the importance of service animals could have truly been compelling if allowed to also examine the challenges that come along with it. Instead, by presenting activists as one-dimensional villains, Nate puts such an emphasis on the positive aspects of Gigi’s relationship with Nate that it fails to give any real weight to their cries for animal rights. For example, at one point, Nate takes his beloved monkey to a party where the creature consumes alcohol. In this moment, we absolutely empathize with Nate’s desire to live like a ‘normal teen’… but was he also being irresponsible with Gigi? (If so, do these villainous activists actually have a point?)
Admittedly, at its heart, Gigi and Nate is a film that wants to give hope to its viewer and highlight the unique relationship between those with disabilities and their service animals. In this way, the film really shines by demonstrating the deep relationship between man and ‘beast’ Having suffered through the trauma of illness, Nate is a man who is looking for hope. By way of his relationship with Gigi, the bond between the two serves as an inspiration for him and generates a level of healing that would have been otherwise unattainable. Although he meets with physiotherapists daily, it is Gigi who seems to lead the way. As such, Nate also provides the opportunity to highlight a community that is often underrepresented onscreen. To these individuals, their service animals are far more than pets. Instead, they are supportive friends who symbolize hope and restoration.
Told with heart and humour, Gigi and Nate is a good-natured project that wants to remind us of the healing nature of love and support, whether from family or animals. Unfortunately though, while its adorable beast may help save Nate, Gigi cannot do the same for the film.
Gigi & Nate is available in theatres on Friday, September 2nd, 2022.