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Young heroine give 'Nim's Island' its twist

Category: Nim's Island Reviews
Article Date: April 4, 2008 | Publication: Knoxville News Sentinel | Author: Betsy Pickle

Posted by: stagewomanjen

In Nim's Island, "girls gone wild" takes on a new meaning. This film isn't exploitation but celebration, extolling the strength of females (with no disrespect to the fellas) in a remote setting that requires self-reliance and courage.

Nim's Island is a desert-island adventure that will call to mind such books and/or movies as Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Pippi Longstocking and even Raiders of the Lost Ark and Cast Away. The family-friendly film is based on the like-titled novel by Wendy Orr.

Eleven-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin) has lived on a tropical island with her marine-biologist father, Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler) as long as she can remember. Her oceanographer mother died when Nim was very small, and Nim knows of her only through the fantastical stories Jack tells.

Nim's friends are a sea lion named Selkie, a lizard named Fred and a wise pelican named Galileo. The family lives in an elaborate tree house that's the essence of "green" living, right down to its solar panels.

The house also has a lab for Jack's research. The Rusoes try to keep the site of their island paradise a secret, but with a satellite dish that lets them stay connected, odds are a communications company somewhere has the address for billing.

Jack heads to sea for a couple of days to study plankton, but Nim stays behind so she can help a sea turtle hatch its eggs. Jack knows Nim can take care of herself; he's the one who runs into trouble when a storm damages his boat, leaving him stranded in the ocean.

Nim gets a welcome distraction from worrying about Jack when Alex Rover, her favorite adventure writer, e-mails to ask Jack questions about volcanoes. Nim lets Alex think she's Jack's assistant until panic over Jack and other crises prompts her to ask Alex to come help her.

Nim pictures Alex as a strapping adventurer, a cross between Jack and Indiana Jones. In reality, Alex is Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), a reclusive San Francisco writer who rarely leaves her apartment. Alex is severely agoraphobic and fears everything from spiders to germs to airplanes to oceans. Her books spring from imagination, research and an ongoing dialogue with her fearless alter ego, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack.

The film plays up the slapstick as Nim tries to protect her home from intruders, loud caricatures that might amuse young viewers but will be irritating to adults.

Foster's foray into physical comedy is much funnier, even though it also is over the top. The double Oscar-winner makes Alex's phobias feel real, and she's just as convincing when Alex starts facing her fears.

Casting Butler as both Jack and fictional hero Alex Rover was an excellent idea, especially since it gives him the chance to play off Foster. Butler has fun snapping out wisecracks and offering insightful gems. But he also is warm and playful as the loving father.

Breslin, who dealt with a different set of father issues in Definitely, Maybe, continues to come across as natural and childlike. However, she steps up to another level here, conveying the sense that even though she's smart and big-hearted, she's obviously someone who has grown up without the socializing effects of mixing with others.

While directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, who wrote the script with Paula Mazur and Joseph Kwong, don't get preachy, they make sure young viewers hear the messages about finding courage, asking for help and protecting the environment. Those aren't gender- specific concepts, but they get the right handling with Breslin as the heroine in Nim's Island.

Nim's Island

A remote female adventure.

* Grade: B


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