"The Great Gilly Hopkins" is not so great. Nor is the film's title character (Sophie Nélisse), a surly tomboy who turns miraculously obliging after failing to escape from her kindly new foster mother, Mrs. Trotter (Kathy Bates). It's all rather fairy-tale fake.
Gilly's mission is to reunite with birth mother Courtney (Julia Stiles), who gave her up years ago. But that's easier said than done when Gilly's ill-conceived plan backfires and threatens to upend her newfound comfort with Mrs. Trotter, little foster brother "W.E." (Zachary Hernandez), a blind neighbor (Bill Cobbs), a strong-willed teacher (Octavia Spencer) and a pesky school chum (Clare Foley).
Gilly's wealthy grandma (Glenn Close), long-estranged from Gilly's mother, swoops in to "save the day." Not surprisingly, she proves as saintly as Mrs. Trotter, so any real conflict is saved for the predictably fraught Gilly-Courtney reunion.
In the hands of director Stephen Herek ( the 1996 live-action "101 Dalmatians") and writer David Paterson (who adapted mother Katherine's 1978 novel), the movie feels too hokey and retrograde to appeal to its intended young audience. There's also a miscalculated racial element that may offend or confuse.
In addition, characters and situations are painted in such simple, broad strokes, we're asked to take much at face value. Still, you haven't lived till you've seen Kathy Bates flap her arms and cluck like a chicken.
'The Great Gilly Hopkins'
MPAA rating: PG, for thematic material and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; AMC Orange 30; also on VOD