Movies need to get quite a bit of information across to the viewer in their very short opening scenes, and The Great Gilly Hopkins did not disappoint; Gilly showed her tough-as-nails attitude and made me love her completely within a few seconds; what’s not to love about a sassy tween?? Says the naive mother of a sassy threenager…
Adapted from the award-winning, 1978 novel by Katherine Paterson, it’s not a “new” story–angry tween bounced from foster home to foster home, finds family at last–but this version is fresh and very heartwarming. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nelisse, whom you may recognize from a little movie called The Book Thief) lands on the doorstep of Maime Trotter (Kathy Bates–yes, THAT Kathy Bates), and immediately goes on the offensive with both Trotter and William Ernest (Zachary Hernandez), the little boy who also lives with Trotter. Despite still believing in a fantasy life with her mother, she settles into life with W.E. and Trotter as best she can. Trouble ensues when Gilly tries to reach out to her mother and receives a very unexpected visitor as a result.
Kathy Bates is endearing in her portrayal of Trotter and her “been-there-done-that” infinite patience with Gilly; I’m a big fan, and they could not have picked a better-suited actor for the role. Bates has such range as an actor that I actually found myself rooting for her to give some sass back to Gilly at times! Bill Cobbs plays Trotter’s blind, elderly neighbour Mr. Randolph, who eats dinner with the family every day–it is the responsibility of the kids to escort him across the street at dinner time, and it is to his house that Gilly runs when finally faced with the truth about her mother.
Rounding out the incredible casting is Glenn Close as Nonnie Hopkins, Julia Stiles as Courtney Rutherford Hopkins, and Octavia Spencer as Miss Harris, Gilly’s favourite teacher. I purposely do not read synopses or cast lists of movies (I like to be surprised), so imagine my jaw dropping upon seeing these A-listers appear (do the kids realize what Hollywood Royalty they were making a movie with?!?)!
The Great Gilly Hopkins is a really lovely movie that brought out moments of true emotion for me (admittedly, I am a good mark for movies like this), and you really are taken along emotionally with Gilly as she figures things out in her new home, new school, and new family. Touching and a little sentimental, it also shows how far people will go to make their loved ones feel a sense of belonging.
This movie proves exactly what I think it sets out to do: that unconventionality is the new normal for families, and that being blood-related hardly matters when it comes to the love that people who are thrown together can have for one another. As a product of a blended family, I can tell you from experience that sometimes you actually can choose your family, and the love that grows from that is all that matters.
We want you to fall in love with The Great Gilly Hopkins too, so we’re giving away ten DVD copies to our readers. Enter below to win your copy! Contest open to Canadians only and closes December 23rd at 11:59 pm.
Disclosure: I was compensated for this review but all opinions are my own.