Steven Robertson: An Irrepressible, Irresistible Rebel on a Roll
Stuffed with treacle and moral uplift, the new Irish film ''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' sounds sweet enough to rot your teeth. Consider the possibilities and try not to wince: two physically disabled young men break from their institutional confines and wheel their way into the good graces of all they encounter.
Yet despite the periodic twinkling, the occasional detours into sentimentality and, most egregiously, the syrupy soundtrack that threatens to engulf the story at every turn, ''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' is better than the usual three-stage journey of courage, heartbreak and redemption. In this case, the triumph of the human spirit comes with a small bitter chaser.
Key to the film's modest success are its performances, notably from the leads, Steven Robertson as a long-term institutional resident named Michael Connolly, and, in particular, an estimable James McAvoy as the titular renegade who introduces rebellion into the Carrigmore Home for the Disabled. Overseen by clucking, professional worriers (played by Brenda Fricker, among others), Carrigmore is silent as a tomb, and about as much fun, when Rory arrives one afternoon, hair arranged in artfully pomaded spikes. Stricken with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that affects the voluntary muscles, this 20-year-old has lived much of his life in a wheelchair, one that most of his caretakers would clearly prefer to keep in permanent park.
But as Michael and the rest of the Carrigmore crew shortly discover, to both their delight and mounting alarm, Rory is anything but confined. Free-wheeling and blissfully foul, he ventures into territory that the able-bodied take for granted, like the local pub, where he hits on women and picks a fight with a drunk because Rory is young and bored and restless, just like everyone else.
There's more to his rebellion, as Jeffrey Caine's screenplay gradually makes clear. In essence, a two-hander about a pair of irrepressible spirits, ''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' also carries a forceful argument about the rights of the disabled in between its melodramatic peaks and valleys. For Rory, raging against suffocating institutional benevolence isn't just a matter of punk posturing; it is a question of human dignity.
Directed by Damien O'Donnell, ''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' doesn't offer many surprises, either in narrative or aesthetic terms, though it does provide an unexpected diversion with an attractive caretaker (Romola Garai). Mostly, though, the film presents the story of two men who face life the way real people do, with glints of anger, eddies of frustration and, every so often, a sense of existential futility. These two wear neither halos nor holy smiles. And, in contrast to the spoiled, overage children who populate our screens and were hideously ubiquitous at the recent Sundance Film Festival, where ''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' played, the young heroes of this small, emotionally satisfying movie are not after our pity. Be prepared, however, if you end up giving them a few of your tears.
''Rory O'Shea Was Here'' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). The film has some salty language, most of which will be very familiar to teenagers and child sophisticates.
'Rory O'Shea Was Here' Opens today in Manhattan. WITH: Steven Robertson (Michael Connolly), James McAvoy (Rory O'Shea), Brenda Fricker (Eileen) and Romola Garai (Siobhan).
Starring Steven Robertson: Inside Im Dancing
An inspirational and funny film in which Michael O'Connolly and Rory O'Shea hatch a plan to leave the Carrigmore Home for the Disabled and live in their own flat in which they employ a headstrong woman to take care of their needs.
Directed by Damien O Donnell. Starring Brenda Fricker, Romola Garai, James McAvoy, Steven Robertson
Enjoyable, moving comedy-drama with likeable characters, a strong script and impressive performances by Robertson and McAvoy. Inside I'm Dancing, which won the Audience Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival, is the latest film from Damien O'Donnell, who directed East Is East and the under-rated Heartlands. O'Donnell's films are notable for their effective blending of comedy and tragedy and Inside I'm Dancing is no exception - ostensibly it's a moving, serious drama about friendship and independence, but it also has a ever-present streak of dark humour running through it. The adverts for the film say things along the lines of "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll see the world a different way" and for once, they might actually be right.
Newcomer Steven Robertson plays Michael Connolly, a 24 year old man with cerebral palsy who has lived his whole life in the Carrigmore Home For The Disabled, under the watchful eye of the formidable Eileen (Brenda Fricker). However, his life is transformed when he gets a new neighbour in the shape of rebellious Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy), who is equally paralysed and wheelchair-bound but still capable of wreaking havoc with his two working fingers and his wise-cracking mouth.
When Michael discovers that Rory can understand his almost unintelligible speech, the two quickly become friends. Rory wastes no time in trying to effect their escape from the Home and eventually they move into a shared flat, employing the services of a local girl, Siobhan (Romola Garai) as their care assistant. However, their quest for independence hits an unexpected snag when both men develop feelings for Siobhan...
James McAvoy ( Wimbledon) is fast becoming one of Britain's hottest young stars, thanks to impressive TV work on the likes of Shameless and State of Play. If there's any justice, Inside I'm Dancing should ensure a healthy film career, as he's extremely good here. Rory has a very bitter, sarcastic, even manipulative side to him and it's to McAvoy's credit that he remains sympathetic throughout.
Steven Robertson is excellent in the sort of role that would guarantee an Oscar nomination if played by a movie star - he manages to convey a huge amount with just his incredibly expressive eyes. Romola Garai (also something of a rising star) is equally impressive, not to mention drop dead gorgeous - the fancy dress sequence with the naughty nurse outfit should earn her an admiring legion of male fans that might have missed her in I Capture The Castle or Dirty Dancing 2.
The film is extremely well-written and thoroughly researched, though it's only fair to warn you that you'll need a sturdy handkerchief for the final reel, which is possibly a little heavy-handed. There's a lot to enjoy though, especially in the interplay between Michael and Rory - a scene where they pick up two girls in a bar is a particular highlight.
In short, Inside I'm Dancing is well worth seeing, thanks to impressive performances by McAvoy and Robertson and solid direction by O'Donnell.