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'He Named Me Malala' review: A heroic look at a heroine

MalalaYousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, is the

MalalaYousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, is the subject of the documentary film, "He Named Me Malala." Photo Credit: AP / Caroline Furneaux

PLOT

Portrait of Malala Yousafzai -- women's advocate, campaigner for peace and the youngest-ever Nobel laureate. Rated PG-13 (thematic elements).

BOTTOM LINE

Heroic treatment of a heroic figure.

CAST

Mala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Pekai Yousafzai

LENGTH

1:27

Spoiler alert: Malala Yousafzai, the plucky, eloquent and often audacious teenage rights activist, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She associates with the likes of Bono, Lady Gaga and Hillary Clinton. She still has to do homework.

Yes, she's something of a contradiction, as well as being an object of both admiration and curiosity in Davis Guggenheim's biographical documentary "He Named Me Malala." Yousafzai, now 18, harbors no anger toward Taliban members, for instance, who shot her in the face when she was 15. She remains devoted to Islam, despite the fundamentalist fury that keeps her a wanted woman in Pakistan. Her younger brothers want to know how she can be such a big advocate for peace, when she's not above slapping them in the face.

As the subject of a documentary, she's also a tough nut to crack, as the Oscar-winning Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") finds when he tries to get a glimpse of Yousafzai's inner life, beneath her very proper surface. She is an eloquent champion of human rights, especially those of young women to get an education (the campaign that made her the target of violence). She has no qualms about speaking truth to power -- we see her do just that with Nigeria's then-president, Goodluck Jonathan, on the subject of Boko Haram and those abducted Nigerian girls. On the subject of boyfriends, she's paralyzed.

All of which makes for an appealing, if not overly revealing, look at one of the world's more recognizable people, who was thrust into the international limelight at age 15 and has never looked back. (The "he" of the title is her father, Ziauddin, who manages her "career.") There's a sense of the inevitable about "He Named Me Malala" -- a movie about her simply had to be made. Whether that movie required quite as many animated sequences or as much manipulated emotion as this one is another question. But one can hardly argue that "He Named Me Malala" doesn't raise one's hopes about the young, or humanity in general.

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