The titular Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) hasn’t had a proper home. She’s barely a teenager and already she’s earned a reputation within the foster care system that’s best described as “difficult”.
She finally meets her match when the kindhearted Maime Trotter (Kathy Bates) welcomes Gilly into her family. Maime, a religiously devout caregiver, gives Gilly the patience she’s been depraved of, but unfortunately Hopkins’ habitual defence protects Gilly from getting hurt again. This also means Gilly acts out in school and disrespects anyone willing to help or listen as she vies to reconnect with her birth mother (Julia Stiles).
The Great Gilly Hopkins is a throwback to wholesome entertainment. This would be a great idea if the film hadn’t been watered-down to dull fodder that’s too mature for kids and too hokey for adults.
The overall ineffectiveness is partly due to Stephen Herek’s toothless direction in this adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s novel of the same name – a real disappointment considering the filmmaker has made entertaining films before like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks, and Rock Star. Herek has made this film with too soft of a heart. He understands the vulnerability of a heartbroken child lost in foster care, but plays the sentimentality too heavily; giving the movie a manipulative appeal. The director, however, is only matching the same delicate nature that has been created by screenwriter David Paterson, which is arguably more disappointing since the writer had superior success in adapting Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.
The performances, at least, somewhat survive. The talent is there (Bates, Octavia Spencer, Bill Cobbs, Glenn Close), but The Great Gilly Hopkins requires the cast to follow through on tiresome formulas, resulting in roles that don’t necessarily stand out.
This movie and its source material may be called The Great Gilly Hopkins, but there’s nothing great about this movie.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie