Rory O’Shea Was Here (review)

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The sign outside Dublin’s residential-care facility Carrigmore reads “A special home for special people,” and director Damien O’Donnell makes sure you don’t miss it as this triumph-of-the-human-spirit- slash disease-of-the-week flick opens. So you know you’re in for either a sappy valentine to “special” people, or — more likely, considering the bitter Irish sense of humor — an angry Gaelic plea not to be so foikin’ condescendin’ just cuz your man’s in a foikin’ wheelchair. It’s the latter, thankfully, and though it’s more than a tad conventional — the human spirit will triumph — there is still much to recommend the film. Twentysomething Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson) has cerebral palsy, little use of his limbs, and a severe speech impediment that drastically limits his ability to communicate. Until, that is, Rory O’Shea (James McAvoy: Wimbledon) arrives at Carrigmore, with his nose piercing and his boom box and his attitude: Rory has a kind of muscular dystrophy that keeps him in a motorized wheelchair; he has use of only two fingers… and his mouth, which he employs to great effect. Oh, and he can understand Michael’s slurred speech. Soon, Rory’s causing a general uproar and convincing Michael they need to get an apartment of their own, away from Carrigmore’s “interferin’ awl bitches” — like Eileen (Brenda Fricker: Veronica Guerin), who runs the place and treats her charges like children, even when they aren’t, even when there’s nothing wrong with their minds. You can fill in the details from there, even without seeing the film: the fight for independence, the heartbreaks and lessons of learning to live on one’s own, the metaphor for everyone’s break from adolescence, and so on. The film’s young cast is extraordinary: neither Robertson nor McAvoy is actually disabled, but you might be hard-pressed to believe that, so genuine and generous are they, asking for no sympathy other than you might reasonable extend to a young man who just wants to be allowed to grow up. And Romola Garai (Vanity Fair), as the lads’ hired helper, Siobhán, is a dose of tart Irish charm. They make the journey over a familiar road a bracing one nevertheless.

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