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Heroic search for the write stuff

Category: Nim's Island Reviews
Article Date: April 27, 2008 | Publication: | Author: Alastair McKay

Posted by: stagewomanjen

Three stars

THE last time we saw Gerard Butler, he was haunting his bereaved girlfriend in PS I Love You. He has also pretended to be the absent father of a lonely boy in Dear Frankie, and brought odd sturdiness to the freakish hermit in Phantom Of The OpADVERTISEMENTera. In Nim's Island, he is again to be found hovering between reality and imagination, as Jack Rusoe, a world authority on plankton, and Alex Rover, the Indiana Jones-ish hero of the adventure books written by pay attention Alex Rover, a nervous author (Jodie Foster).

On a level that is either metaphorical or metaphysical, but is certainly meta, Butler is Foster's alter ego. He is tough and fearless, while she is agoraphobic and timid, with a dependence on hand sanitising lotion. When Alex (Foster) refuses to leave her apartment, it is her fictional creation who encourages her. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the fearless Alex urges the timid Alex to be the hero of her own life story, a sentiment which in other circumstances would be close to madness, but is seen in this context as good advice. "Take my hand, Alexandra," he urges. "Touch the world." Alexandra replies, quite reasonably: "I don't want to touch the world. It's not sanitary."

All of this is rather complex for a children's film, and the neurotic workings of Alexandra's mind will probably be as much of a test for young audiences as Foster's attempts at comedy are for adults. Fortunately, the film is dominated by Nim (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin), who lives with her father Jack on a secret island. She is largely self-sufficient, relying for company on her animal friends, Selkie the sea lion, Galileo the pelican and Fred the bearded dragon. This is not as lonely as it sounds, as Fred is quite sociable, Selkie is a decent dancer and Galileo is on hand to demonstrate the scientific principles of gravity by dropping fish from the sky.

All is idyllic, until Jack's quest for exotic plankton causes him to get lost at sea in a monsoon, leaving poor Nim to answer his e-mails. As luck would have it, at this precise moment in San Francisco, Alexandra is suffering from writer's block, and sends a message requesting obscure information about volcanoes. Nim, assuming that this Alex Rover is the hat-wearing male hero of the novels, and not the female author of the books, sends a message pleading for help.

Wendy Orr's novel is not ideal material for a film in two ways: the characters are frequently alone, and so spend a lot of time speaking to themselves. More worryingly perhaps, this uplifting parable shows a child in trouble befriending a strange adult over the internet, and includes the following exchange. Adult: "How old are you? Are you all alone?" Child: "Yes, I'm all alone. I'm 11."

To Nim on her desert island, this is innocent. In unsanitary reality, it leaves a bad taste.


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