In this hokey but effective adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1978 young-adult novel, thirteen-year-old Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse), who’s spent her life in foster care, arrives at the Maryland home of Maime Trotter (Kathy Bates), a bighearted eccentric whose other charge, seven-year-old W.E. (Zachary Hernandez), barely speaks.
Gilly resists all friendly overtures, but she hatches a plan to join her long-lost birth mother (Julia Stiles) in San Francisco after receiving a surprise postcard, even if that means stealing cash from a half-blind neighbor (the great Bill Cobbs).
Screenwriter David Paterson, adapting his mother’s novel, and director Stephen Herek embrace the story’s old-world conventions — The Great Gilly Hopkins could easily take place during the Depression. To help sell the many plot contrivances, which include a surprise rich grandmother for Gilly, Herek has packed the film with seasoned pros, including Octavia Spencer as Gilly’s English teacher and Glenn Close as that wealthy grandma, who shows up in the third act to steal Gilly away from the world she’s slowly come to love.
Kids are sure to enjoy a bit involving a paper airplane and its magical effect on W.E., along with Gilly’s ill-fated attempt at running away. Bates is a shameless ham throughout, but when she works her magic on Trotter’s end-of-movie speech to Gilly, resistance is futile.
The Great Gilly Hopkins
Directed by Stephen Herek
Opens October 7, Cinema Village