The Great Gilly Hopkins
R1 - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (9th January 2017).
The Film

Spunky and angry Tolkien-namesake Galadriel (The Book Thief's Sophie Nélisse), or "Gilly", who after multiple attempts to run away and be reunited with her long-absent mother Courtney (10 Things I Hate About You's Julia Stiles), has been shuffled from one foster home to another and is determined to hate the latest one even though her caseworker Mr. Ellis (Into the Woods' Billy Magnussen) tells her that the next stop will be a teenage facility. Gilly has much to mock in religious and charitable widow Maime Trotter (Misery's Kathy Bates) and her other charge: silent, jumpy, and easily intimidated W.E. (Zachary Hernandez). She also bristles at the reverse psychology she believes even-tempered schoolteacher Mrs. Harris (Snowpiercer's Octavia Spencer) is using on her as Gilly first attempts shoots for the highest grade, then for the lowest, and even resorts to racism in a futile attempt to get thrown out to get a reaction. Gilly picks a fight with six boys, but the fallout has her skirting the school's zero tolerance policy by virtue of being new and from a troubled background, and earning the unwelcome adoration of more optimistic and quirky foster child Agnes (Sinister's Clare Foley). However badly Gilly treats those who attempt to befriend her, she draws the line at seeing W.E. bullied for his lunch and finds herself unable to insult elderly blind neighbor Mr. Randolph (The Color of Money's Bill Cobbs) to his face. Having been unable to raise (actually, steal) the entire amount needed for a cross-country train ticket to San Francisco and her mother's last-known address, Gilly pens a desperate letter to her mother making allegations against Trotter and the conditions of her home. It is only after Gilly has seemingly burned all of her bridges that she realizes how sincere Trotter is about not giving up on her, and she soon discovers that making amends is sometimes more about intent than action as she extends the chores Trotter has given her to pay back the money she stole from laundry and dishes to helping W.E. to stand up for himself and relating to Randolph rather than merely guiding him back and forth between his home and Trotter's for dinner. Gilly's letter to her mother, however, comes back to bit her when it is forwarded to Nonnie (Fatal Attraction's Glenn Close), the grandmother she has never known and had never known of her, who pays a visit at the worst time and finds her slaving over Thanksgiving dinner while Trotter, Randolph, and W.E. are all down with the flu. The resulting fallout from the visit may not only cause Trotter to lose W.E. Gilly to be ripped away from the only real home she has ever known. Adapted from the novel by Katherine Paterson and adapted by her playwright son David Paterson – who also adapted his mother's Bridge to Terabithia which was loosely based on a tragic incident in his own life – The Great Gilly Hopkins is a likeable but imperfect family film. Although Gilly's antisocial behavior can be harsh, she never comes close to irredeemable; and that is perhaps because the story is seen from her point of view but told from the perspective of an adult (Paterson reveals in the extras that she had been a foster parent and had wondered how a child would feel being thought of as "disposable"). There is no plot twist so devastating as that which scarred scores of young readers of Bridge to Terabithia, but the film manages to hit the dramatic beats with a sense of warmth and heartbreak that is undercut only by what seems like pruning during the scripting phase. Nélisse gives a good performance, but it mostly consists of hitting dramatic beats from plot turns that are not so much predictable as telegraphed by the scripting. The only one of the seasoned pros that actually seems to be slumming is Spencer, and that may be only because the script resolves the complex relationship between Harris and Gilly with a letter of appreciation and a smiling Spencer as part of a montage showing Gilly adapting to her new life while maintaining her old friendships and bonds. Gilly's friendships with Agnes and class nerd Rajeem (Like Sunday, Like Rain's Sammy Pignalosa) are similarly underdeveloped, with Agnes going from a downbeat "thanks for pretending to be my friend" before Gilly's attempt to run away to being all smiles via Skype during the aforementioned montage. The film thankfully eschews the conventional happy ending for a bittersweet one in which Gilly still has a bit of growing to understand Trotter's homespun reasoning as to why she has to move forward with a situation that is as imperfect in other ways.


LionsGate offers up a serviceable progressive, anamorphic widescreen presentation of this digitally-lensed production. The photography is generally bright and crisp with no complex lighting so the encoder likely had no issues with it.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is generally front-oriented with surround utilized during the school scenes and a couple other exteriors while the score and some source music also reaches the rear channels. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitle are also included.


Besides start-up trailers, the only extra is a making-of featurette (9:07) in which author Paterson recalls how the book was inspired by her own experiences as a foster parent and the question of what it would feel like to be thought of as a "disposable" child. Director Stephen Herek (101 Dalmatians) and producer/screenwriter David Paterson discuss how the novel and film differ in their portrayal of a foster situation as warm and positive while the film itself is dramatic without being saccharine. Nélisse, Bates, Close, Spencer, Stiles, Magnussen, Cobbs, Hernandez, and Foley offer up sound-byte appreciations of the script as well.


Adapted from the novel by Bridge to Terabithia's Katherine Paterson, The Great Gilly Hopkins is a likeable but imperfect family film.


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