Sneak Peek: The Great Gilly Hopkins
A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia), The Great Gilly Hopkins stars Sophie Nélisse, Kathy Bates, Julia Stiles, Bill Cobbs, Billy Magnussen, with Octavia Spencer and Glenn Close. Directed by Stephen Herek; Screenplay by David Paterson.
Rating: PG for thematic material and language.
Runtime: 97 Minutes
This transcript has been lightly edited:
The Referee: Hey, everybody. We saw a Sneak Peek of a very different movie than what we review usually. It’s called “The Great Gilly Hopkins” — yup, that’s right: “The Great Gilly Hopkins.” You may recognize the title based off of its books. But, it’s coming in a theater near you October 7. Uh-huh. And, it’s got (laughs) a star-studded cast. The cast [members] are stacking it when it comes to Oscars. We’ll just say that.
The Critic: Yeah.
Ref: And, it’s directed by Stephen Herek, who directed every 90s movie that you’ve ever loved: “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “The Three Musketeers,” “Mighty Ducks,” “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” on and on and on and on and on. It’s written by David Paterson, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, who is his kin. And, we’ll explain a little bit more about that. And, it stars some pretty cool people: Sophie Nélisse — I don’t know much about her, but she is a wonderful kid actress, apparently, in that world — Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Octavia Spencer, Julia Stiles, [Bill] Cobbs — I mean, it goes on and on.
Critic: Yeah, and Billy Magnussen — I mean, let’s just (laughing) finish the whole thing. And, Sophie Nélisse was in “The Book Thief.” If you saw that, that’s her — the lead character. So, she’s used to doing book adaptations in film. Now, here’s what happens in “The Great Gilly Hopkins”: Sophie Nélisse plays the titular character, Gilly Hopkins. And, Gilly is short for Galadriel — they kept saying — from “The Lord of the Rings.” I thought it was [pronounced] “Galaddriel.” OK?
Ref: Listen, everybody, to each his own. (laughter) Tolkien’s not alive to correct us.
Critic: (laughing) That’s right. So, Gilly is in foster care, and she’s had lots of problems. She’s gone from home to home to home, and they can’t find the right fit. So, this is her last chance to stay in a home, or she’ll just have to forget it, essentially. And, Billy Magnussen plays the person who’s trying to fit her into the appropriate —
Ref: Her case worker. Mm-hm.
Critic: That’s right. So, she ends up in the home of Kathy Bates! (laughs) OK? Trotter — that’s her name. And Kathy Bates’ character already has another foster kid: a little kid, quiet guy —
Ref: W. E.
Critic: There you go: W. E. I love that.
Critic: So, of course, at first, Gilly tries all of her old tricks. She does not want to be here. And, she also goes to school, and her schoolteacher’s played by Octavia Spencer —
Critic: — who ain’t havin’ none of it from nobody. OK? None of y’all. So, she [Gilly] really tries a nasty trick on her [Spencer], and you have to watch this movie to see Octavia’s reaction. So, what happens is: She [Gilly] does something — I won’t tell you what — that cascades into her not being able to stay in that home. It threatens her being in that home with Kathy Bates. Now, by the time that happens, she doesn’t want to leave anymore. She wants to stay. So, there’s the conflict. And, the main thing with her character is: She wants to be with her mother —
Ref: Who she’s in contact with via postcards.
Critic: There you go. That’s right. So, her mother’s connected — her mother’s played by Julia Stiles — and that connection leads us to Glenn Close, who plays her grandmother. So, at the end of the movie, you can probably guess what happens. There’s also a blind neighbor, played by Bill Cobbs, thrown into the mix, here. And that’s the neighbor of Kathy Bates.
Ref: Yeah. That was a great summary. Listeners, it’s basically that teen angst of a troubled child with a troubled past. So, in dealing with the performances, specifically: Sophie — they give her a lot of angst to deal with —
Ref: And, you know, sometimes that comes across; sometimes it doesn’t. It’s kind of difficult with child actors. She kinda just doesn’t strike me as that truly angst kid who’s causing trouble — beating up kids. It doesn’t come across as truthful. But, what it does do is: Her co-stars really, really shine around her. And, eventually, by the time you get to the end of the movie, for me, she really blossomed into a very heartfelt performance —
Ref: — because there was a lot of tearing going on. Kathy Bates, on the other hand: You’re gonna get exactly what Kathy Bates does. I mean, she has a (with accent) southern drawl (laughter); and she’s gonna pull all of her stops and really [give] a flawless performance, even though they had her do some pretty tricky things.
Critic: Uh, yeah, like pretending to be a chicken. I mean, so — (laughter) OK? Also, going through the performances, Octavia Spencer: You know what you’re going to get from her, here. Glenn Close: You know she’s going to come in —
Ref: To me, she was my favorite. (laughs)
Critic: Yeah. She really brings a warmth and intelligence, and you can feel the hesitation she has with Gilly. So, she really did a lot of nice work, here. Julia Stiles: OK, she comes in as this mother and just has that part. Billy Magnussen: fine as that case worker. And Bill Cobbs, as the blind neighbor, I thought also brought some heart to the film.
Ref: Yeah. Mm-hm.
Critic: My main problem is with the script. If you don’t know the book, I don’t know that it’s gonna make much sense to you: what’s happening from moment to moment. It’s just hard to follow, not plot-wise, but motivations of the character: Why are they doing this? Why are they doing that? Why are they having a change of heart? All of that wasn’t quite clear to me. So, what I would say, if we’re thinking: Who should watch this? It would be fans of the book; it would be families who like a little bit of spice —
Ref: A little bit of edge —
Ref: — to their family entertainment, because there were some edgy things that I don’t know if I want to take my six-year-old to go see. But maybe the 10-year-old or the 12-year-old would get it.
Critic: Yeah. And, I have to say, just to let our audience members know: There are some things going on with race that might shock you. (laughter) Just gotta throw that out there, especially for a children’s story.
Ref: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know what? At the end of the day, “The Great Gilly Hopkins” is definitely a family flick. It depends on what kind of family you are.
Ref: But, if you want something a little lighter around the fall season, this is certainly something that may work for you. Do you have to see it in a theater? I’m not quite sure. It depends on if you want to take your family out to see this particular and peculiar movie. “The Great Gilly Hopkins” opens October 7.