Rory O'Shea Was Here
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Rory O'Shea Was Here (I'm Dancing Inside)

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One sure fire way to tug at the heart strings of the audience is to use physically challenged characters. Since I am part of the American public that has to deal with disabilities I usually look at such films very closely to see just how others with disabilities are presented in the cinema. Since I am also of Irish decent I was extremely interested when I was presented with the opportunity to review Rory O’ Shea Was Here, a film that is concerned with two Irishmen with very limited mobility. Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson) has cerebral palsy which has confined him to a wheel chair and makes his speech almost unintelligible. He resides in the Carrigmore Home for the Disabled where he suffers through day after dismal day. That is until Rory O’ Shea (James McAvoy) comes to live there. Rory has Duchenne muscular dystrophy which has left him only with the ability to speak and the use of two fingers. He is fast to proclaim that the two remaining mobile fingers are enough to drive his chair and pleasure himself. This is itself should tell you that this is not a man who will act as people feel a man in a wheel chair should act. Rory has a profound affect on Michael, challenging him to grab whatever life has to offer. With his spiked hair and flippant attitude Rory is far from the favorite patient of Nurse Eileen (Brenda Fricker) who dispenses punishments on Rory such as refusing to let him wear his hair in his preferred style. Michael immediately bonds with Rory, partly because Rory takes the time necessary to understand his slurred speech but mostly because he sees in Rory a chance to live.

The loud and defiant Rory cannot be contained by the institution. He takes Michael out for a wild night with three goals, get drunk, get arrested and have sex. While this is the aspiration for any young man in dozens of flicks here the audience is permitted to see this in a far different light. Rory even bullies their way into a club with an impassioned speech about the rights of the disabled, this scene pretty much sums up Rory, a man who biology has dumped on but who will not be denied. The pair runs into a pretty young woman Siobhan (Romola Garai) who joins up with them when Rory gets Michael to badger his negligent father (Gerard McSorley) into footing the bill for an apartment for the lads. Siobhan becomes an ad hoc caregiver for them as well as general co-conspirator in their antics. Of course there are some aspects of the typical movie romantic triangle but here it is handled in a tenderer, emotional fashion than the typical Hollywood flick. Usually both men in such a triangle have a chance at winning the fair young maid but here any hopes for a romance is fairly impossible.

While many films have been made with the main plot of disenfranchised youth, this one doesn’t just focus on the attitude of rebellion, the young men here have good reason to resent society, their families and life in general. Still, these men have better than average reason for such angst and despair. Despite the film’s tendency to get a little overly sentimental it does nicely display the ability for the human spirit to overcome any obstacles. It also shows that what many take for granted, picking up a dropped toothbrush or opening a door for some is a matter of some degree of difficulty.

The actors here may be young but they did what many of their profession would balk at, taking on roles of severely disabled persons. Steven Robertson has the difficult task of making us care about a character that must be interpreted by Rory, to all others, including the audience, his speech is not understandable. This requires Robertson to use is facial expressions and limited body language to convey his character’s emotional state. He makes us believe his transition from a shy, introspective young man to one that is able to face life and his condition on his terms. The catalyst here is of course Rory, nicely played by James McAvoy. While many young actors have taken on the punk role few could do as well as McAvoy does here. The defiance here is in strange juxtaposition to the disabilities. Its one thing to see a young man with spiked hair, grungy clothing and loud mouth but to view this coming from a wheelchair is to say the least, novel. Rory is played by McAvoy with flair and energy that helps to carry the film through the slower moments. Brenda Fricker does a good job in her role as the authoritarian nurse, Eileen. She knows that she has a difficult occupation but is determined to rule the roost. When challenged by the independent Rory she is up against something she has not encountered before. Fricker lets us see this character in a human way, not the completely overbearing monsters some actors would have taken the character. Being of Irish ancestry it may be in my genes but there is something very appealing about Romola Garai. She is perfectly cast as the young woman that becomes involved with this strange pair. As an actor she takes this role with due seriousness but also a playful touch that helps the audience understand Michael and Rory a bit more through her eyes.

Damien O'Donnell directed this film with a strong and knowing nod to such classics as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ and ‘My Left Foot’. Taking on such subject matter especially in light of how powerful and well done those films were done. Even though most people don’t immediately think of Ireland as a film making country it is and O’Donnell is one of the more promising directors based on the island. While some of the film seems to lose a little focus, mostly due to somewhat uneven pacing, it does remain a very good tale of people most would piety. Some aspects of the story threads are too predictable; especially the emotional interaction of Michael, Rory and Siobhan the film is saved by the sheer energy of the cast. O’Donnell tends to depend too heavily on techniques and should trust himself more.

The DVD released by Universal is very well done. Universal is to be commended for bringing little gems like this to the DVD viewer instead of only focusing on the major blockbusters. The audio is in Dolby 5.1, crisp and clear. While the sub woofer will not get the workout the aforementioned big budget flicks provide the rear speakers add nicely to the overall ambience of the sound field. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video has a softer color palette but remains clear with true colors. Unlike many little film releases Universal included some interesting deleted scenes and an extension of the party scene. I won’t spoil it but there is an alternate ending that many may enjoy more than the one used in the theatrical release. While many will find watching handicapped people difficult, get over it, we are just like you so why not put those feelings away and enjoy a good little film.

Posted 6/22/05

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