Universal // 2004 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Diane Wild (Retired) // August 15th, 2005
Live life like you mean it.
Called Inside I'm Dancing in its original UK release, Rory O'Shea Was Here is an Irish film from the producers of Bridget Jones's Diary and Billy Elliot. While it has little in common with those films in content, playing more like a comedic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it has the same charm and humor.
I almost don't want to give a plot synopsis. As soon as I mention that it's about the unlikely friendship between a shy man with cerebral palsy and a rebel punk with muscular dystrophy who become roommates after meeting in a dreary institution for the disabled, it will be difficult to convey the buoyant humor and emotional depths of this film to those who might dismiss it as yet another inspirational movie about how disabled people can overcome obstacles. But Rory O'Shea Was Here is about finding the joy in life and learning to connect, and it's as funny as it is touching.
The charming and outrageous Rory (James McAvoy, Bright Young Things) introduces himself to his fellow residents at the institution where he must temporarily reside with a speech that shocks the staid nursing staff: "Rory O'Shea, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Besides a full vocal range, I have the use of two fingers of my right hand, sufficient for self-propulsion and self-abuse. You can shake my hand or kiss my ass, but don't expect me to reciprocate."
Rory is the cool kid who needs to assert his independence despite lacking the ability to live independently, while fellow resident Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson, Kingdom of Heaven) is the timid man who has become comfortable in his safe, if insular, institutional life. Desperate to be understood despite his heavily slurred speech, Michael latches onto Rory when he realizes that Rory is the one person who can decipher his words.
Rory's efforts to seize the day take on a desperate patina, but inspire Michael to find his way in the real world for the first time. To 21-year-old Rory, that means getting Michael to wear more fashionable clothes and sport a more attractive hairstyle, and to be introduced to the wonders of women and alcohol. But he also spurs Michael to live a normal life, without ignoring the limitations of that life.
Rory is conscious of the value of life, in both literal and figurative ways. Early on, he asks Michael if he's "worth the effort" to be understood, and encourages him to take a handout from his estranged father because living independently will be "worth it." Though Rory is rejected for funding to live independently several times, the two men become roommates when Michael is granted that funding, allowing Rory to serve as his live-in interpreter and the beautiful Siobhan (Romola Garai, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) to act as their personal aide.
There is an awkward power balance between the three -- she is their employee, but though Rory is the dominant friend, he is dependent on Michael as well as Siobhan. When Siobhan storms out, after Rory comes home long after she's supposed to be off, Michael offers to help him get to bed. Rory poignantly answers: "I don't want your help. I don't want anyone's help." But of course, he needs it, and we see in his defeated demeanor when she returns that he wants more than help from her.
There is a tenderness in Siobhan's touch that was missing from the institutional staff, and her frank liveliness attracts both of them. She treats them like men, not wheelchairs, but there is a painful scene when Rory shoots Michael down for having feelings for her, because it's obvious that he's talking about himself, too. And when she rejects Michael, she's rejecting Rory as well.
Humor is a key to this story, drawing us in to the difficult world of these men with ease. It's also a key to Rory's personality, as he uses humor and defiance to deflect pity. But, as Siobhan points out, he also uses his disability to deflect the consequences of some of his worst behavior, even as he struggles against both preferential treatment and prejudice because of that disability.
Rory is not just a tough guy, though. McAvoy does a marvelous job of showing the scared, defiant boy behind the bravado. Robertson's Michael is powerfully emotive, despite needing his words translated for us, and using his tortured facial expressions to good effect to convey the sweetness and determination of a man who is breaking free of his innocence.
The movie has its clichés, like the montage of unsuitable aides they interview before convincing Siobhan to take the job, and veers into inspirational sentimentality more than once. But as compensation, it offers up two fully realized characters who draw us into their struggles and their triumphs. The ending is both a surprise and a perfectly natural extension of what comes before, making the journey definitely worth the effort.
There are few extras, consisting of two deleted scenes, one extended scene, and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes add little to the story, and make Rory cross the line slightly more into jerk territory. I have a personal bias against alternate endings, since they conflate in my mind with the rest of the movie and lead to confusion in my little mind. This one's too pat and tidy, anyway, and the given ending works much better.
The movie is presented in a terrific 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with minimal grain and overall excellent picture quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is more than the dialogue-oriented film needs, but when Rory blasts his music, or during the bar and party scenes, the enhanced sound works well. Subtitles are useful not just for those who need the French or Spanish translation, or who are hard of hearing, but for those who may find the Irish accents difficult to decipher. They don't give any advantage to those hoping for insight into Michael's speech -- we need Rory's translations too -- but it's rewarding to discover that as we get more familiar with his speech, it's easier to understand him.
The themes of carpe diem and raging against authority are not new, but Rory O'Shea Was Here is a refreshing take on what could be tired ideas. Seek out this entertaining and moving DVD and Rory might just charm you, too.
Review content copyright © 2005 Diane Wild; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted scenes
* Extended scene
* Alternate ending
* Official Site (UK)
* Official Site (US)