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Three Oscar-winning actresses get caught in a pool of sappy sentimentalism in "The Great Gilly Hopkins," a misfire of a family drama.
Gilly (played by Sophie Nelisse, from "The Book Thief") is a sharp-tongued 12-year-old Maryland girl who has been shuttled from one foster home to the next, using her sarcasm as armor while hoping her wayward mom (Julia Stiles) will take her back. She lands in the home of Maime Trotter (Kathy Bates), a warm-hearted grandmotherly type who also cares for a mute boy, W.E. (Zachary Hernandez), and watches over her blind neighbor, Mr. Randolph (Bill Cobbs).
Gilly has a prickly relationship with Trotter and with her new teacher, Miss Harris (Octavia Spencer), but just as she's starting to settle into her new life, she encounters her mother's estranged mom (Glenn Close), who wants to uproot her once again.
The screenplay by David Paterson, adapting the novel by his mother, Katherine Paterson (who also wrote "Bridge to Terabithia"), doesn't shy away from Gilly's nastier impulses, as she defensively lashes out at anyone trying to be kind to her. The problem is one of tone, as director Stephen Herek ("Mr. Holland's Opus") takes scenes that should be earnestly serious and plays them for uncomfortable laughs.
'The Great Gilly Hopkins'
Opening Friday, Oct. 7, at the Megaplex 20 at The District (South Jordan); rated PG for thematic material and language; 97 minutes.