Gigi & Nate

Every once in a while a story comes along that stirs us so deeply we may never quite be the same. I was fortunate to be invited to screen the new Roadside Attractions film Gigi & Nate, which releases on September 2nd. As both a die-hard film AND animal lover, it may surprise others to learn that I’m not actually a fan of films about animals. It’s weird, I know. I wasn’t expecting to love the movie, but I did.


Gigi & Nate is the story of Nate Gibson, a young man whose life is turned upside down after he suffers a near-fatal illness and is left quadriplegic. Moving forward seems near impossible until he meets his unlikely service animal, Gigi – a curious and intelligent capuchin monkey. Although she is trained to assist Nate with his basic needs, Gigi helps Nate find what he needs most of all: hope.


Gigi & Nate is a powerful offering of several stories and substories that, when allowed by the viewer, pack a powerful punch. I want to preface this opinion with some cliche phrase like in a nutshell, or at its heart, but I can’t. This story is too complex.

Inspired by a true story of a quadriplegic and capuchin monkey service animal, Gigi & Nate tells the story of Nate, a daring and adventure-filled teen boy whose life is turned completely upside down just before he is set to leave for college. The film shows us how hopeless Nate’s once bold life becomes. As his extreme disability takes its toll on every member of the family in significant ways the film does a powerful job of conveying a heaviness that (thankfully) many of its viewers can’t fathom. When Gigi comes along, a rescued capuchin monkey turned service animal, the world opens up for Nate (and his family).

As a story about a hopeless life turned once again hopeful, this is a beautiful and heartwarming story. It hits all of the notes just right. Viewers are left feeling good as the credits roll, which is likely the point. If that is all someone takes from this film, that’s enough. Beyond this very formulaic recipe for a feel-good movie though, there is so much more at play.

Again and again, this film shows us varying degrees of people without empathy vs. those who are empathetic. We see this with the “petting zoo” Gigi is rescued from. We see this in the family members terrified of the change (perceived chaos) bringing Gigi into the home could cause. Once again we see this in the people outraged at the use of service animals. In this storyline, our focus of such divides is a monkey, but beyond the movie we experience such divides every day. Today finds our real world riddled with division. Our families are more divided than ever, divorce rates are significant, and the missing ingredient in the majority of these divisions is an ability to empathize.

Additionally, Gigi & Nate offers us an honest glimpse into how trauma and grief can disconnect us from those we are closest to. Statistically more marriages and families crumble in the aftermath of significant trauma or loss than not. Anyone who has walked this fine line of tragedy understands this. While it feels as though it would be the opposite, the truth is that when we are exhausted and grieving we often don’t know how to do the vulnerable work needed to nurture those connections–sometimes this feels impossible. This film handles this very relative narrative so beautifully.

Two other subplots that really struck me were extremism and before/after connections. In the first, we meet two organized groups of people during the course of this film whose hearts are to protect animals from abuse. One is the organization that rescues Gigi and the other we see later in the film protesting service animals. The origin of both groups of people clearly came from a place of justice, concern, and outrage over abuse. The journey for each of them though went In different directions. We see the passion of one side growing into helping and hope while the other grew more narrow-minded and less compassionate. Removing animals from this scenario, this subplot resonates with so many things happening in the world around us. The latter subplot shows us powerful examples of before and after connections and how they evolve.

In closing…

Gigi & Nate is a beautiful story about the healing power of both empathy and connection. The film utilizes the opportunity to share varying (and powerful) angles within the story and characters to provide the audience with a complete and dimensional picture of what is a truly hope-filled and poignant story about a man and his service animal.

I was disappointed not to be able to attend junket interviews with cast, due to having covid, as I had so many things I wanted to ask. Gigi & Nate left me a little bit more wide open for the differences in the lives of others that I may not understand.

If you need something lovely to do this long weekend, supporting this beautiful film sounds like a win/win.