The Wool Cap (2004)

Based on the 1962 film Gigot, written by Jackie Gleason and directed by Gene Kelly, The Wool Cap is the latest in a string of TV movies “presented” by Johnson & Johnson and airing on TNT. Now out on extras-free DVD, it seems at first as soft and comforting as the baby powder it helps promote, but it has more grunt, owing to its urban setting and decidedly anti-fairytale twists.

William H. Macy stars as Gigot, superintendent of a rundown apartment building in New York City. As the go-to guy for the building’s tenants, including a proud prostitute to a motley group of kids in a raucous band, Gigot is respected for his work ethic and his apparent friendliness. Though he harbors no real affinity for the tenants, he can’t tell them when he’s annoyed or out of sorts due to his being mute. Away from his broken down surrounds, Gigot is a lonely man and a heavy drinker whose only friends are his neighbor, Ira (Don Rickles), and the monkey (Crystal) he keeps inside his coat whenever he’s out of his apartment.

At first, loneliness appears to be the cause of Gigot’s depression, but when an unreliable and drug-addled tenant, Arleen (an amazing performance by theater actress Cherise Boothe), leaves her young daughter, Lou (Keke Palmer), in his care, we soon learn that company is the last thing on Gigot’s mind. Lou’s arrival in Gigot’s apartment sets off a series of standard odd couple scenes in which the two match wits as a form of getting to know each other. Gigot hates Lou’s loud music, Lou isn’t too thrilled that she’s sharing her living space with a monkey, Gigot likes to be alone, Lou thrives around others, Gigot drinks, Lou can’t read. Before long, they come to realize they just might need each other. But learning to get along isn’t enough Gigot and Lou to settle into their new life as best pals. With Lou’s estranged mom nowhere to be found, child services are out to get Lou, meaning Gigot must find a way to keep her nearby or risk losing her altogether. It’s not until he starts on the road to finding her a family that we learn what losing her will mean for Gigot.

The wool cap of the title has a shocking significance that should alter how we feel about Gigot, but as we’ve come so far with him until this point, we’re forced to accept his previous wrongdoings, no matter how devastating. As a convicted felon, Gigot is unable to gain custody of Lou and after exhausting all his perceived options; he rules out hiding the girl, and is suitably reprimanded when he proposes to sometime lover Gloria (Catherine O’Hara) in the hopes that marital stability might help his chances of adoption. He must overcome shame and fear to confront his own father and ask for help.

Initially, Lou’s mother is revealed as a hopeless addict lacking responsibility and uninterested in the pain her actions are causing her daughter. We don’t sympathize with Arleen and root for Gigot to work out a way to father Lou, because, at first, we believe him to be a moral man. We see Arleen differently, though, when we learn the similarities between her and Gigot which makes her fate all the more tragic, considering Gigot’s overcoming his own period of desperation and dependency. Yet, even as we judge the characters, we also see that the film makes a case for resisting judgment.