Rory O’Shea Was Here

"Is it always this much fun? Or is today someone's birthday?"

I swear to God I heard loud sobbing in the audience toward the end of Rory O’Shea Was Here, an execrably cutesy little British movie about how handicapped people are at least as special as, if not more so than, the rest of us. It’s hard work disliking a movie like this, full of characters with dystrophy and palsy, and lines like “Sure I’m dancing – what do you think I’m doing inside?” Surely one feels like a curmudgeon, with the vast majority of the surrounding audience breaking into wet sloppy tears as one simply stares ahead in vague confusion. But I must say I felt no shame: this is a cloying, shallow, grandstanding, dumb movie, a “crowd-pleaser” in the absolute worst sense of the term. The success of movies like this is why the arthouse rarely has rarely got anything on the multiplex.

One is advised to step carefully in criticizing a movie like this, lest one be accused of insensitivity to the plight of the handicapped, or denial of their humanity. But I am insensitive only to the torrid manipulations of a misguided screenwriter, and I deny only the humanity of these characters, in these situations. Jeffrey Caine, the writer, and director Damien O’Donnell, want Rory O’Shea (James McAvoy), and his friend Michael Connolly (Steven Robinson) to be lovable rebels, slapstick comedy heroes, irrepressible dreamers, and, finally, spokesmen for a cause. The filmmakers are willing to coopt their characters at every opportunity, twist them to fit whatever emotional agenda they happen to be pursuing, with no regard for their integrity or ours.

O’Donnell and Caine insist on hammering home their points with the force of a sledgehammer but then don’t seem to know what to do with them. At one point, Michael, whose disease has eroded his communicative abilities to such a degree that he can only speak through his pal Rory, gets a crush on their caretaker — a beautiful young woman named Siobhan and played by the likable Romola Garai. Rory, in a characteristically moody outburst, tells him that “parakeets don’t breed with armadillos, that’s the end of it!” That’s hurtful, and the movie knows it, but spends the rest of its running time either implicitly affirming it or ignoring it. That’s not to say that love should have conquered all, but all Rory O’Shea Was Here does is condemn its title character for delivering that nasty barb… But is it true?

The film has no stance on this, as on anything. It wants to do nothing more than parade its wheelchair-bound protagonists around in costumes, continually strip them of their dignity for our emotional fulfillment, put together hideously unfunny comic relief montages, and then somehow magically tie everything together with a message about how “you make your own mistakes. You make your own decisions” and — get this — “right must exist independent of its cause.” Surely I will get many e-mail flames for this “controversial” review, but I submit it’s one better than the movie, which insists on taking the least controversial route possible.

But it’s not just that Rory O’Shea Was Here has nothing to say and takes an inordinately long time saying it. It’s that its characters have no identity outside of being handicapped, and outside of the “message” that does not exist. Everything they do, every word they say, is in the context of their disability, their inability to take care of themselves, and their misfortune. How ironic that a movie that claims to assert independence for the disabled cannot set its protagonists free for even a second.

So, you’ll forgive me for not sobbing. I refuse to give this movie the satisfaction. It’s shameless and stupid, claiming to be about “handicapped people” and then leaving out the “people.” Flame away.

-- Eugene Novikov

Rory O’Shea Was Here
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