Another beloved children’s novel by Katherine Paterson—she also wrote Bridge to Terabithia, which became a lovely and heartbreaking film a few years back—comes to the big screen. The Great Gilly Hopkins is not about wizards, and it’s not set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia: This is a tough, simple story about a 12-year-old foster kid who dreams of the mother who abandoned her swooping in to take her away to a wonderful life. Sophie Nélisse (The Book Thief) is all sharp-edged angry sparks as Gilly, who plots to run away from her latest foster home, run by the effusive Trotter (Kathy Bates), whose kindness grates on the girl. But perhaps sympathy from a new teacher, Miss Harris (Octavia Spencer), along an unlikely vector may succeed where persistent warmth fails; the scene in which Harris pegs Gilly’s rage as the source of her power and her pain is extraordinary. Gilly is a real kid the likes of which we don’t often see onscreen, and her path to finding a family and a home is not an easy one. There are no platitudes here, just bittersweet truth.
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