In “Gigi & Nate,” a film directed by BAFTA Award-winning Irishman Nick Hamm of the far superior 2016 drama “The Journey,” London-born Charlie Rowe (“Rocketman”) plays Nate Gibson of Nashville, Tennessee, a young man left quadriplegic by a life-threatening bacterial infection. After attempting suicide, Nate gets a service animal, a once abused capuchin monkey named Gigi (Allie), and his mood improves dramatically. But an unpleasant encounter with an animal rights activist “Karen” named Chloe Gaines (Welker White in a thankless role) endangers Nate and Gigi’s future together. Will Gaines be able to have capuchins declared illegal as service animals in Tennessee?
One of the more interesting things about “Gigi & Nate,” which is reportedly based on a true story, is how the film fails to acknowledge some obvious things and chooses to focus on others. Nate’s predicament is indeed dire, especially for a young man facing life as someone unable to help himself. But he has a close family to support him. His mother Claire (Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden), who always seems to have come from the hairdresser, is his strongest ally. But Nate also has his “day-drinking,” 80-year-old granny Mama Blanche (Diane Ladd), his sisters Annabelle (Hannah Riley) and the older Katy (Aussie Josephine Langford). Nate also has a caring personal aide named Nogo (Sasha Compere). Nate’s father Dan (Jim Belushi) has some sort of a high-powered career. We don’t know much about it, but it appears to keep the family in very comfortable style.
When Claire realizes the seriousness of her son’s condition, she orders a helicopter to transport him like it is second nature to her. The Gibsons live in a plantation-style Nashville McMansion of dubious taste. Nate has his own private home in the back, a glass-walled modern facility and sanctuary, complete with a mechanized sling chair Nogo uses to wash him and ferry him about on a motorized rail. The family had to sell the summer home in North Carolina to build it. Boo hoo.
But honestly, does anyone even mention how much worse off Nate would be if the Gibsons weren’t rich?
Gigi and the family dog Banjo get into messy (and tedious) scrapes to the tune of bad pop music. Nate wears a colostomy bag and explains more than once that he “cannot go to the bathroom.” But we never see or hear about Gigi’s personal hygiene needs in spite of the fact that it would only be natural to wonder about them. “Karen” Chloe isn’t the only person who thinks having Gigi climb the shelves in the cereal aisle of the supermarket to retrieve Nate’s favorite brand is a bit icky.
In one sequence, Nate is invited to a raucous party by a girl he met in North Carolina (Zoe Margaret Colletti). He takes Gigi with him. They both drink. Guess how that goes. We all know that the monkey that played Crystal the smoking capuchin in “The Hangover Part II” got hooked on cigarettes, right?
Chloe has a busload of truly obnoxious protesters at her disposal. Is the point of “Gigi & Nate” to demonize animal rights protesters? Rowe is fine, if a tad generic as Nate. The actor and the monkey have a connection. But is it love or love of peanut butter that keeps them together?