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Entries in Gibby [2016] (1)

Monday
Aug012016

Gibby (2016)

Glass Monkey

Remember when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted to tepid critical and commercial response, and everyone freaked out because the Justice League movie was barely under way? Something similar is happening right now. Or maybe it's about to happen. Maybe it has happened, and I missed my window. Regardless, I've got to warn people.

According to IMDb, the sequel to Gibby is in pre-production. At present, the only person officially attached to Gibby Cheers is screenwriter Greg Lyon (though there's already poster art featuring three members of the first film's cast--including the titular monkey, played by Crystal the Monkey). That first film, which is the main topic of today’s review, is about Katie (Shelby Lyon), a depressed teen gymnast whose unexpected friendship with a pint-sized primate gives her the strength to re-engage her dreams, following the death of her mother. It’s also such a disjointed mess that any plans to move forward with a second installment need to be re-evaluated at a narrative (i.e. cellular) level.

Before you accuse me of applying hoity-toity critical standards to a kids' movie, understand this: I think Gibby could have amounted to something, even if that “something” is harmless, disposable family entertainment. The main problem is structural, and I don't know how much of the blame rests on director Phil Gorn’s shoulders, versus problems at the script and/or editing stages. Whatever the case, this film plays like it’s been chopped to hell, sequenced out of order, and uploaded to YouTube.

In the first twelve minutes, we meet a suburban teen who steers a drone through his sleepy suburban neighborhood; a high school teacher who must decide what to do with her pet monkey while traveling abroad; a teen girl who’s lost her mother; and her two best friends, whose feud with a clique of mean-girl gymnasts threatens to upend, like, everything. I also left out the cute-guy subplot and…something else, probably.

Some movies have twelve endings; Gibby has a half-dozen beginnings, none of which stick. Watching the film, I could just imagine Lyon at a typewriter (yes, a typewriter), balling up sheet after sheet of non-starter ideas, mumbling, "Okay, okay...a movie about drone voyeurism. No, no. How's about a teacher and her adorable pet monkey? No good. No good. Um...competitive teen gymnastics? Maybe. Dead parent stories? Those are fun..."

The movie's half over before Katie actually brings Gibby home, and seven-eighths done before the whole gymnastics thing gets a second glance. In between, we’re treated to an out-of-the-blue dance sequence; a kitchen-vandalism gag that goes on forever; and two scenes in which characters allegedly spend hours sweating over daunting chores--yet emerge fresh-faced, perfectly coifed, and without a speck of grime between them.

To cap it all off, Gibby feels terribly nineties in its sensibilities. I appreciate that the filmmakers' target audience is children (and possibly pre-teens), but the characters surpass whole-milk wholesomeness to become condescendingly unrealistic. Best I can tell, Gorn and Lyon's story takes place in an alternate universe where Little House on the Prairie became the template for Bayside High, which led to a new-millennium fantasia of teen altruism in which high school students are so eager to spend the summer babysitting a monkey indoors that they create a waiting list for the library's only book on primates. Yes, if only someone had invented a world-wide web of information that these kids could tap into; available, perhaps, at the touch of a button on their ever-present cellular telephones...

It's not all bad news in Gibby-land. Crystal the Monkey is unbelievably cute, and I would have gladly spent ninety minutes watching her perfect a steady rings technique in the gym. I also loved every second of Sean Patrick Flanery's performance as Katie’s dad, Frank. After seeing him play Young Indiana Jones, Powder, a Boondock Saint, and the lead in the last Saw film, his turn as a beleaguered suburban father achieves full-on Lynchian bizarreness. He mixes Jack Wagner's look and Christian Bale's gravel-whisper with hand gestures that seem like a one-man tribute to both Nic Cage and Cher's Oscar reels for Moonstruck. There should be a part for him in every movie, doing exactly this.

I believe all the performances in Gibby are sincere, but the young actors don’t pop off the screen. It's probably fairer (and definitely more optimistic) to say that the material under-serves their budding talents, a similar critique I had for the attractive-but-utterly-unremarkable leads in Independence Day: Resurgence.*

So, yes, back to Gibby Cheers. If everything falls into place, Gibby and Katie will return next summer as cheerleaders. I don’t know what this has to do with competitive gymnastics, but continuity isn’t a prerequisite for everything.** What should be mandatory is a coherent structure and a narrative whose simplicity is concomitant with its audience’s expectations. The Big Short had two hours and ten minutes with which to explore ambition and loss via cross-cutting narratives and a large ensemble cast. No one expects (nor likely wants) the costumed-monkey movie to reach for the same stars, especially with nearly an hour-and-a-quarter less run-time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m rooting for that monkey. It’s the people behind her that give me pause.

*A film that, incidentally, gave even less screen time to Vivica A. Fox than this one does (so, advantage Gibby, I guess).

**God help us all if Lyon is secretly building the Gibby Cinematic Universe.