One way to deal with disability is courageously but, as this film and its
principal character demonstrate, when splashy bravura is used to mask anger,
pain and unnacceptance, courage may not be what's being expressed. Of
course, one can always point out that the fully abled are in no position to
know or to judge the cries for help that come from being confined for life to
a wheelchair. That aside, the title character of the drama, takes
self-assertion dangerously close to the realm of self-destruction.
The assisted living home in Dublin, known as the Carrigmore Home for the
Disabled, contains a cross-section of impairments, from mild to the barely
functional. In the case of Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson), who has
grown up there, his cerebral palsy confines him to a wheelchair and to a
speech impediment that makes verbal communication all but impossible.
But sometimes wonders occur, as in the case of Rory O'Shea's arrival on the
scene. O'Shea (James MacAvoy) is also bound to a wheel chair. What he lacks
in motor ability he makes up for with a sprightly mind, a quick wit, and a
testy personality. Plus, he has no problem understanding Michael's every
word. The symbiotic tie between this pair is immediate.
While Michael is one to accept his destiny, and to make the most of it,
O'Shea is crawling out of his skin to achieve a greater amount of normality
than reality is likely to permit. His purpose in life appears to be the
effort to make people realize that his physical limitations do not represent
his true identity. With his rebellious assertiveness and flinty attitude,
his influence on Michael might not add up to mutual benefit, but Michael
proves mature enough to maintain his own values and desires and to react in
his own way to the alien world that O'Shea all but dumps on him.
After a bold adventure to a nightclub, during which the wheelchair pair meet
ladies of the night, get into a scrap, and meet blond, lovely Siobhan (Romola
Garai), they aren't inclined to withdraw to the controlled sedentary life that
the institution demands. O'Shea proposes that they leave the institution for
their own lives of independence and, to the consternation of institution
supervisor Eileen (Brenda Fricker) (a mild alternative to Nurse Ratched of
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), they manage to shame Michael's powerful
father into providing the means. They then land a personal-assistance grant
from the three administrators of Ability Ireland, and move into a flat of
Recognizing that they can't make do without the assistance of a caregiver,
they track Siobhan down at her scuz job in a supermarket and convince her to
take them on. Her beautiful and warm presence, however, only emphasizes
their disabilities. With admirable integrity to reality, her proximity
arouses emotions that can't be returned nor fulfilled.
The manner in which director Damien O'Donnell and writer Jeffrey Caine deal
with this issue is a praiseworthy effort to keep their story out of the make-
believe and the over-sentimental, wisely keeping the emotional elements
grounded in reality. Further to the good, the elements of casting and
performance elevate the narrowly focused drama above that of the
run-of-the-mill disability-of-the-month movie.
Spiky-haired, handsome MacAvoy shows us how to be audacious and prominent
without moving more than his face and two fingers. He has no disability in
emoting while bound to the seat of a wheelchair. Garai is a composite
of grace and sensitivity, with a beauty that is as internal as it is facial.
Think of a cross blending of Drew Barrymore and Maria Bello -- an actress to
watch. Fricker, as almost always, is a class act and richer in nuance and
humanity than the stern administrator stereotype.
There is sorrow here but, at the end, one feels agreeable to having this
obscure corner of society brought engagingly, if somewhat painfully, to our
~~ Jules Brenner