Like her revolutionary namesake, women's rights activist Malala Yousafzai refuses to be silenced by oppression, or even a Taliban assassination attempt. The teenage Nobel laureate is reverently profiled in He Named Me Malala (PG-13), directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth).
The "he" in the title is Malala's father Ziauddin, and their relationship forms the beating heart of a biography that could be entirely didactic. Ziauddin dares to put faith in a daughter's will, against the conventions of Pakistan's Muslim society. He names Malala for a legendary teenager who exhorted her countrymen to stand and fight, hoping his daughter will do the same.
She does, defying Taliban orders for women and children to remain silent, subservient. Malala's near-murder, recovery and family exile in England is essayed, sometimes in watercolor animation, bolstering what would be talking-head voiceovers.
The most gratifying takeaway from He Named Me Malala is how ordinary Malala is shown to be, when she isn't lobbying the United Nations and visiting beleaguered countries. She's shown at home picking on her younger brother, blushing over photos of Roger Federer and Brad Pitt, giggling at Minions. Just a normal girl, making her courage and accomplishments that much more extraordinary. A-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic