As society emerges from a time of isolation and uncertainty, stories of hope that highlight human resilience are needed more than ever — and the new family drama "Gigi and Nate" delivers just that.
Inspired by true events and starring Charlie Rowe, Marcia Gay Harden and Jim Belushi, "Gigi and Nate" tells the story of Nate Gibson, an 18-year-old who became a quadriplegic after developing meningitis after swimming in a lake during a family vacation.
Initially, Nate struggles with depression and suicidal ideation due to his new reality. Once an active young man looking forward to college, Nate is forced to rely on others for his every need. However, he slowly finds hope again through his relationship with his service animal, a precocious capuchin monkey named Gigi.
Directed by Nick Hamm, the film is rated PG-13 for mild language and some thematic material. It hits theaters on Sept. 2.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Harden, who plays Nate's longsuffering mother, Claire, and Hamm, a BAFTA-winning director, reflected on the importance of bringing stories of resilience and hope that uplift the human spirit to the big screen.
"We need stories that reinforce our ability to come through adversity. We need stories that are not just critical of the human spirit but celebrate it; we need stories that don't just undermine us and make us think that the world is so awful all the time," Hamm said.
"Most of the world is good. Most people are good. Most people try and do normal, everyday things well, and those moments need to be celebrated in movies; those people need to be celebrated in movies."
Though there are plenty of moments of levity, "Gigi and Nate" deals with heavy subject matter. Nate grapples with his will to live, and his family struggles to come to terms with the devastating tragedy. The film centers not only on Nate's journey but the challenges and sacrifices that come along with caring for someone with a disability.
Harden, who shared that her own mother passed away after battling Alzheimer's, said she had "tremendous empathy" for Claire, who is thrust into the caregiver role following Nate's accident. Though Claire doesn't always get it right, Harden said it was important to her that audiences empathized with her character.
"I understand caregivers very well. And they're exhausted. That's No. 1," the Academy Award-winning actress said. "Claire's exhausted, and she's doing everything for [Nate]. And she's not a helicopter mom, but she's suddenly in a position where she has to be feeding him. … [doing] intimate things that mothers don't do for their adult children. And as a mother, you'll do anything for your child who's been hurt."
"I had tremendous empathy for the caregivers," she added. "And I, as an actor, I don't really care, ever, if you like the character that I'm playing; I just want you to be able to relate to them."
Though "Gigi and Nate" is not a faith-based film, it's rife with religious imagery and themes, as Nate's family is shown praying on several occasions. It also speaks to the power of connection and community, emphasizing just how crucial relationships are to mental and emotional health.
A recent Harvard study found that 36% of all Americans feel "serious loneliness," a percentage that researchers said "increased substantially" since the COVID-19 outbreak. Loneliness is overwhelmingly linked to serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
"I think after the pandemic, I notice all of my kids feeling isolated and unconnected," Harden said. "And there's nobody more isolated in this movie than Nate. … He's lost his friends, he's lost his college opportunity, he's lost his ability to move, and he feels incredibly unconnected. And as soon as the monkey comes into his world, he's suddenly connected to something he really cares about."
"Honestly, it's a love story between Nate and Gigi, and that's so beautiful. And I feel like the world needs that right now. We need messages of love and hope and connection and just realizing that we're all better together than we are apart."
For Hamm, "Gigi and Nate" allowed him to bring to life a unique and heartwarming story that reminds viewers that it's possible to overcome even the most daunting challenges through hope and perseverance.
"I've never understood the relationship between a service animal and the disabled person they're working with," he said. "And so for me, there was an opportunity to explore a new world and to make a movie, which ultimately celebrated enormously the human spirit within that, and the overriding ability that we have to come through awful crises and triumph in those moments, and in this case, partnered by something primitive, something primal, something earthy."
He added, "To me, that's what I thought was a beautiful story."
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com