'Based on recently discovered footage, thought to be lost, of Goodall as she observed, studied, and befriended the chimps in the wild, the film film is filled with romance: for Goodall’s work, for the chimps, and for Goodall herself, as she watches them, perched in trees in cargo shorts, barefoot, her long ponytail bunched at the back of a swanlike neck. If you ever find someone who looks at you the way Goodall looks at those chimps, marry them. She puts you in mind of one of those home-counties beauties John Benjamin used to fall for, the daughters of doctors from Aldershot, burnished by the sun, swiping at the rhododendruns with their tennis rackets (“lucky the rhododendruns”). Just 26 when anthropologist Richard Leakey picked her for the job, she had been working as his secretary, and had no scientific degree. Her fresh impressions unclouded by received wisdom, driven instead by endless patience and curiosity, she seems to have found some part of herself in the jungle, this “strange white ape” as she puts it, communing with “the great mystery” she finds out there, like all those woman-in-Africa roles that Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Kim Basinger have queued up to play.
Miffed to have her solitude disrupted when National Geographic send along a photographer, Hugo van Lawick to capture footage, she notes “it seemed I was as much a subject as the chimpanzees,” a line that drily foreshadows not just her eventual romance with Van Lawick, but the enraptured press coverage that greeted her discoveries (“Comely Miss Spends Her Time Eyeing Apes”) as well as the split focus of this documentary. Uses footage mostly shot by her husband — you can almost feel the point at which he falls in love with her — director Brett Morgen toggles back and forth between Goodall and her animals. When the chimps mate, Van Lawick proposes by telegram (“Will you marry me Stop”). When momma chimp gets pregnant, so does Goodall. Eventually, the chimps turn out to be “unconscionable thieves” capable of violence, war, and heartbreak and that, too, has ripple effects in Goodall’s life. Morgen’s editing can sometimes be a little tricksy, and his use of surround sound effects, simulating every snapped twig, will offend purists, but there’s no denying the sweep of his storytelling, or the beauty of the images which seem to have inspired Phillip Glass to deliver one of his more emotional scores: if Glass’s glittering arpeggios are good for anything it is accompanying a massive herd of wildebeast as they flock across the Serengeti.'