RORY O’SHEA WAS HERE (2005)
Starring James McAvoy, Steven Robertson, Romola Garai, Brenda Fricker, Tom Hickey, Alan King, Ruth McCabe, Gerard McSorley, Anna Healy, Sarah Jane Drummey, Rachel Hanna, Emmet Kirwan, Pat Shortt, Stanley Townsend, Derbhle Crotty, Donal Toolan, Tony Kenny and Keith Dunphy.
Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine.
Directed by Damien O’Donnell.
Distributed by Focus Features. 105 minutes. Rated R.
I have to admit that I went into Rory O’Shea Was Here completely naive to the story and the film. I had vaguely heard about it during its short run of the art houses, but when I sat down to watch the DVD, I knew nothing about it other than what I had read on the box.
Therefore, I was rather surprised that one of the most important points of the movie was only vaguely hinted to in the box copy. I hope I’m not giving away any big secrets by saying this; I never like to spoil movie surprises, but this is one that we find out in the first scene. And it would be impossible to discuss this film without divulging this one simple fact that seems to have been conspicuously avoided in the box copy.
The two main characters are disabled, and wheelchair bound. Rory O’Shea (James McAvoy) has multiple sclerosis, which leaves him with all of his facilities and the ability to communicate, however he only has slight control of two fingers on one hand. Michael (Steven Roberston) has cerebral palsy, which has taken away most of his motor functions and even his ability to speak in more than guttural grunts.
I don’t know why this is not divulged in the packaging, it is a vital part of the storyline and, to me at least, makes the story all that much more interesting. These are not stories that often get told. However, except for a cryptic mention that Michael was a patient at an institution and that the guys hire a beautiful woman as live-in aid, there is no clue. Even the pictures seem to be picked to obscure this plot point, if you look closely at two of the pictures, you can see the headrest for Rory’s wheelchair in the background, but it is nothing you’d notice until you knew to look for it.
So again, I hope I haven’t let the cat out of the bag. Because Rory O’Shea Is Here is a very good, funny, passionate movie and I’d hate to think that people would avoid it just because the two main characters are handicapped.
Rory meets Michael when he is moved into a new care facility in Dublin, Ireland — one of several homes that he has been in and out of in recent years. Rory is just turning 21-years-old and considers himself something of a punk, he insists on having his hair spiked by the nurses when they sponge bathe him. Michael is used to being ignored by the fellow patients because he can’t express himself, and for a while Rory teases him, too. However, when it becomes apparent that Rory can understand what Michael is trying to say, Michael clings to him, so happy to finally find someone with whom he can communicate.
At first, Rory appears to feel it a chore, but eventually an unlikely friendship is born. Michael has never been out of the home and always been on his best behavior. Rory is more of a rebel, causing trouble just because he can. He decided to teach Michael about life on the outside. When on a charity mission, Rory talks Michael into going down to the local pub and trying to meet women. Michael is excited and fascinated by all the things he has been missing.
Rory has been trying for years to move out on his own, however the board has always stated that he was too irresponsible to live on his own. (Honestly, given his record, that is not that outrageous a decision.) Therefore, Rory talks to Michael, who had never had any inclination to move into getting his own place. Michael does it to help his friend. Michael, with his spotless record, is approved easily. Then Rory points out that he needs a translator.
Once they move out, they need to find a care worker to take care of them. After interviewing a group of bad candidates, they decide to hire Siobhan (Romola Garai), a beautiful girl that they met at the pub. The only real qualification she has is she is pretty, and she is caring, after all her previous job was stocking shelves at a grocery store. It takes a bit of convincing, but she agrees to take care of them.
Not surprisingly, both of the guys fall for Siobhan. She grows to care for them, though not in the way that they hope. Rory and Michael grow to enjoy their newfound freedom, learning to take care of themselves. The actors playing the main characters do an impressive job; they are not really handicapped; however, they appear to have studied, learned and understood the lifestyle these two characters find themselves stuck in. Stevenson has a particularly difficult job, unable to communicate vocally except for small words, he still is able to let the viewers know exactly what is on his mind.
Just because Rory O’Shea Was Here is sympathetic to its main characters, it will not give them a free pass. One of the most emotionally charged scenes in the film is when Siobhan has to confront Rory and tell him that people don’t dislike him for his disabilities, they dislike him because he has no respect for anyone but himself and he seems to feel that he is owed special treatment because of his maladies.
She is right. Rory is more than occasionally an asshole and he treats people with barely disguised venom. Frankly, if he were not in a wheelchair he would get into a lot of fights. He even tries to start one in a pub, despite the fact that he would have no way to attack or even defend himself. However, that beating that he was looking for would just feed Rory’s world view that he has been screwed over. Still, it is a rather refreshing characterization – why can’t a handicapped person be a bit of an asshole? They’d have more reason than most do. The one person that Rory can sometimes behave with is Michael, although he can suddenly be casually cruel to his best friend as well.
Rory O’Shea Was Here is not always pleasant viewing. Also, honestly, the film does have a slight tendency to sentimentalize its characters. Nonetheless, it is an important and rewarding film. (6/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 20, 2005.