- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Anyone familiar with the disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy knows how “Rory O’Shea was Here” must end, but that knowledge doesn’t make this defiantly mirthful Irish import any less moving.

The besetting sin of movies like these ” the title character (James McAvoy) is stricken with Duchenne and befriends a young man (Steven Robertson) with cerebral palsy in a stodgy institutional home ” is an excess of sentimentality and a weakness for crude emotional manipulation.

Director Damien O’Donnell, working from a script by Jeffrey Caine, isn’t quite innocent of that sin, but he counterbalances it with humane realism, along with a tall portion of biting gallows wit.

When Rory, a spiteful, spiky-haired punk, is first introduced to the Carrigmore Home for the Disabled, he’s appalled at the lifelessness of the place and chafes under the care of the women who treat their charges with a stultifying mixture of sternness and fretfulness.

Mr. Robertson’s Michael Connolly, whose condition forces him to speak in a slow, virtually unintelligible garble, is immediately impressed by Rory’s ability to understand his impeded speech and, nearly as quickly, captivated by his new friend’s voluble charisma.



Michael convinces a panel to award him and Rory, his devoted “interpreter,” a stipend for independent living. The two ” both wheelchair-bound ” find residence in a Dublin flat and hire a cute, vivacious girl (“Vanity Fair’s” Romola Garai) as their caretaker.

Michael’s mistaking of her clinical intimacy in their lives for something more sets up the movie’s formal, not entirely predictable, moral dilemma. Legal protection for the disabled is fine and good; but what of their needs as humans, not citizens? The law can have nothing to say about those, as no one is entitled to romantic love.

One “Rory” reviewer huffed that the movie’s dramatization of a disabled person’s difficulties in the mate-finding department was condescending, saying “even guys in wheelchairs have girlfriends.”

Well, yeah ” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a harder time than joe sixpack and his functioning legs. This is egalitarianism in its most desiccated form. “Rory” has a bigger heart than that.

Mr. McAvoy (“Wimbledon”) plays Rory with a sneer and a chip on his shoulder. He’s in a perpetual state of rebellion: against the physical limits of his disease and the shallow pity he feels from those around him. The journey for Michael, bright-eyed and guileless, is to find a sense of equilibrium. Together they’re the most unusually affecting buddy-movie pair.

It’s impossible, given the timing, not to compare the spirit of “Rory” with that of “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Sea Inside,” both of which deal with the moral complexities that severe, unalterable disabilities impose on ethics.

What makes “Rory” tick ” not to mention what makes it more enjoyable ” is that it leaves the heavy lifting to others. Rory and Michael are determined to find the closest thing to normality they can get their hands on, and that’s that.

The movie will no doubt reduce audiences to a chorus of sniffles, the very thing that Rory wouldn’t want.

***

TITLE: “Rory O’Shea was Here”

RATING: R (Profanity; mild sexual suggestiveness)

CREDITS: Directed by Damien O’Donnell. Produced by James Flynn and Juanita Wilson. Written by Jeffrey Caine. Cinematography by Peter Robinson. Original music by David Julyan.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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