Monkey Masterpiece

‘Gigi and Nate’ warms audience’s hearts nationwide

NOTE: Movie depicts scene of suicide that may be triggering or upsetting for some viewers. 


“Gigi and Nate” was not a movie I was originally planning on seeing. I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole “based on a true story” type films, but let me tell you reader, I left the theater impressed (and also crying). 

The movie begins joyfully and steadily, with a very nostalgic feeling surrounding the narrative. It opens on a 4th of July afternoon, where Nate Gibson (Charlie Row) leaps into a lake and plunges deep under the water. Initially, he experiences a light ringing in his ears but is largely unaffected. Later that day he joins his family for a 4th of July dinner, where the ringing progressively worsens. It worsens to the point where he is found kneeled over, gasping for air, barely conscious and writhing on the floor in pain. 

He is rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors are dismissive about his condition. Nate’s mother, unsatisfied with the hospital’s service, flies Nate to a hospital in Nashville where he is properly taken care of. After being examined, the news is dire—Nate has been diagnosed with meningitis with a small chance of survival.

The entire mood of the film shifts to show a joyless and dread-filled Nate who is now paralyzed in a wheelchair. His dread grows to the point where he even attempts suicide. Luckily his family was nearby and was able to save him, but the mindset of Nate at this point in the movie is made very clear. 

It is then that we cut to four years after the incident, where Gigi is finally introduced. Gigi is a Capuchin monkey, rescued from a traveling circus and trained to be a service animal. To aid in not only Nate’s mental health but to assist with his disability, his family decides to get Gigi for Nate to live in their home. Some of the family is apprehensive at first, but Nate is ecstatic. Slowly but surely, the bond between Gigi and Nate builds, to where Gigi is helping Nate with everything, even his physical therapy.

Nate makes some poor choices on his journey with Gigi and has to face the consequences in a major way. The legality of service animals and the ethnicity of animal labor is called into question.

First, I want to say the overall quality of the film was fantastic. The music, the sequencing, the shooting and the emotion of the film are all executed wonderfully. Typically in films like this one, the mood that is supposed to be heartwarming and triumphant comes across as cheesy and not very genuine. “Gigi and Nate” could not be more different. 

The movie does a great job focusing on the bond between Gigi and Nate without straying too much from them as the main focus. But it also gives detail to the events around their interactions and their journey together. A subject touched on is the problems residing in Nate’s family. Following the incident, the family has experienced immense loss and has had to change their entire way of living. The movie shows the effect these problems have on Nate, and the guilt he feels for the weight his family carries due to his condition. 

The buildup to Gigi and Nate’s meeting was very gradual and it was worth the wait. It didn’t feel rushed or clunky. The entire theater ‘awed’ when Gigi was finally introduced. Gigi was mostly a real live-action monkey throughout the film, but she was occasionally animated with CGI. The only real reason CGI was used was to give Gigi more emotional expressions and I think they did an excellent job. She was so remarkably expressive and you could feel her joy, her fear and her sadness. Sure it might have looked a little silly at times, but I believe it was necessary to get the desired expressions out of the character.

Gigi and Nate was of course a tragic story at times. The story was pretty grim and sorrowful at some points, but the movie makes a point to keep things light even during the heavier moments. There were small moments of humor where the audience would laugh even though the whole theater was just crying the moment before. 

An interesting perspective was introduced later in the film, that of animal cruelty. It was unexpected, but Nate received such a large amount of violent and hateful backlash from animal rights activists following the social media outburst that occurred late in the movie. Mobs formed outside of Nate’s house and threatened him and his family, creating a large disturbance. Among the people in the mob, there were surely people who were genuinely concerned for the animals’ health and well being, but a lot of the activists pictured were violent and aggressive in their protest. This entire scene brings two questions forward: “Can outbursts like these truly be called peaceful protest?” and “Does a person’s disability constitute the work of an intelligent animal like monkeys?” Neither of these questions are particularly answered in the film, but are left to the audience’s interpretation. 

Overall it was a true roller coaster of emotions, and I mean that in the most non-cheesy way possible. Among the comedies and the action movies that have taken a large part of theaters recently, it is nice to see a heartwarming and emotional film hit the big screen. Please, if you have two hours to spare, grab some popcorn and a box of tissues, and go see “Gigi and Nate” in theaters.