Movie Review: Rory O'Shea Was Here
By Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
David Mamet recently wrote that bad drama "informs us of what we knew when we came into the theater - the infirm have rights, homosexuals are people too, it's difficult to die." Bad drama, he continued, "appeals to our sense of self-worth, and, as such, is but old-fashioned melodrama come again in modern clothes."
I'd add that bad drama often moves us to tears - shame tears, cries in the dark that we'd rather no one know about, ever.
Exhibit A: "Rory O'Shea Was Here," a new film about the relationship between two disabled men, with a title - a statement about the indelible mark leading man Rory leaves on this crazy, mixed-up world of ours - that screams emotion-tugging, violin-cueing weepy.
We first meet Rory (James McAvoy) at Dublin's Carrigmore Home for the Disabled. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a muscle-deteriorating degenerative disease that has confined him to a wheelchair with the use of only two fingers and partial mobility of his head, but it has not affected his quick wit or punk sensibility. (Rory sports leather, chains and a mohawk.) Rory is what you might call a life force - a foulmouthed, hard-drinking, fight-the-power cinematic cliche - and when he befriends clean-cut Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson), you can actually hear the diem being carpe-d.
Michael, also in a wheelchair, is a Carrigmore lifer whose wealthy bureaucrat of a father institutionalized him as a young boy. Cerebral palsy has severely impaired Michael's verbal skills, so much so that no one, not even his trained caretakers, understands a word Michael utters - no one, that is, until Rory moves in.
Yes, my friends, Rory O'Shea is here.
McAvoy does his best with this subpar, heart-tugging material. At times his mix of easy charm and inner-demon pulls Rory out from under the tired script, but those pesky dramatic forces keep pushing him back in for every predictable plot development.
As his unofficial translator, Rory convinces Michael to abandon the Carrigmore's sponge baths and sing-alongs for a night of pub and club hopping. This first taste of independence - Guinness! Halter-tops! Techno! - inspires Michael to apply for a personal-assistance scholarship that, once granted, allows him and Rory to move into their own flat. They hire as their assistant Siobhan (Romola Garai), a beautiful young woman with no applicable schooling or experience but a big heart and lovely "personality."
Thus begins Rory and Michael's "Mary Tyler Moore" phase, during which they frolic in the park, race the local kids via wheelchair and make it after all with their blond bombshell companion.
But don't get too high. Director Damien O'Donnell and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine faithfully adhere to the bylaws of melodrama and quickly plunge us from triumph to tragedy. At one moment Michael and Rory are painting the town like nobody's business, and at the next feeling the burn of unrequited love, the constraint of their special needs and worse.
A few years back, Thomas McCarthy's "The Station Agent" tossed aside political correctness for solid storytelling and character development, making an impact not because its star was a dwarf, but because its star just happened to be a dwarf. This is drama of the good variety, which, Mamet wrote, "survives because it appeals not to the fashion of the moment, but to the problems both universal and eternal, as they are insoluble."
Mamet is smart, and so are you. We don't need "Rory O'Shea" to teach us that disabled people are people too.
"Rory O'Shea Was Here"
Directed by Damien O'Donnell; written by Jeffrey Caine; photographed by Peter J. Robertson; edited by Frances Parker; production designed by Tom Conroy; original score by David Julyan; produced by James Flynn and Juanita Wilson. A Focus Features release; opens Friday, Feb. 18. Running time: 1:44. MPAA rating: R (language).
Rory O'Shea - James McAvoy
Michael Connolly - Steven Robertson
Siobhan - Romola Garai
Con O'Shea - Tom Hickey
Fergus Connolly - Gerard McSorley