RORY O'SHEA WAS HERE directed by Damien O'Donnell, written by Jeffrey Caine, produced by James Flynn and Juanita Wilson, with Steven Robertson, James McAvoy and Romola Garai. 104 minutes. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (February 18). For venues and times, see Movies, page 90. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Park City, Utah - for the obliviously non-disabled, movies about people with disabilities can be like strangers' baby pictures. You know how you're supposed to react when you see them, but sometimes you have to force it.
Rory O'Shea Was Here trades in some of those emotions you'd expect in any uplifiting wheelchair weepie, but it does have one advantage. It's Irish.
O'Shea is a piss-and-vinegar young Dubliner who fights his way out of an institution to set up house with a friend and their barely qualified caretaker. In a bit of casting no doubt meant to stir up echoes of My Left Foot, Brenda Fricker plays a straitlaced nurse. She's glad to see the back of Rory, with his insults, his nose ring and the obnoxious metal he blasts from his stereo.
Even the home caretaker who becomes a friend has her limit.
"You know what your disability is?" she screams at him. "You're an arsehole."
"I guess the expectation people might have with a film about disability is that it's gonna be quite preachy or political or worthy, or that these characters are gonna be superhumans trapped inside a disabled body," director Damien O'Donnell said last month at Sundance.
"That's what I liked about the script. It was about these two friends just trying to be ordinary, trying to be like everyone else."
That means drinking, clubbing and trying to pick up girls. The facts that Rory's spiky energy stops right below the neck and his friend Michael has cerebral palsy are hardly dealbreakers. O'Donnell's aim was to make their very normalcy part of the film's humour.
"You're meant to laugh," he says, "and then not be sure if you should be laughing."
O'Donnell, whose own body parts seem to work as designed, is aware of the pitfalls of sensitivity. To make the film, he first had to learn the language.
In Ireland, he says, "you're supposed to say persons with disabilities. You're a person first. You're a person with a disability, you're not a disabled person.
"If you're not used to that world, you find yourself making all these terrible faux pas. And I'm not sure how seriously people with disabilities take that language, but there are people who will champion it on their behalf."
So O'Donnell made sure Rory O'Shea staked out the rebel position.
"My little pitch for the film was One Flew Over My Left Foot, just as a shorthand," he says. "That's very much in the spirit of what it is."
RORY O'SHEA WAS HERE (Damien O'Donnell) Rating: NNN
Rory O'Shea Was Here is an inevitably heartwarming story of two young Dubliners triumphing not over their disabilities, but over the nurses and social workers who try to trap them in their bodies. Predictable but entertaining, especially because of James McAvoy's live-wire performance as Rory, a wheelchair-bound man desperate to live independently. His friend Michael has cerebral palsy, but the two still manage to get loaded, go clubbing and fall for their home care worker. The film follows an expected arc, but some scenes, including a costume party with Rory dressed as Dr. Strangelove, have surprising bite and charm.