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The Irish Patient: Steven Robertson plays a cerebral palsy patient in an assisted-living community in 'Rory O'Shea Was Here.'

I'm O'Shea, You're O'Shea

Sentimental, punk wheelchair comedy rolls through movie clichés

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Well, they've finally done it. They've figured out a way to combine the quirky working-class British/Irish comedy (The Full Monty, etc.) with the physically challenged subgenre of the disease-of-the-week flick (My Left Foot, etc.). But this intermittently charming new hybrid ultimately fails to move on its own.

Cerebral palsy patient Michael Connolly (Steven Robertson) dwells in an assisted-living community, packed with various other souls all confined to wheelchairs. His monotonous daily routine cracks in two when Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy) breezes in, wearing punk boots, a tattered jacket and his hair in spikes. By way of introduction to his fellow patients, he announces that, as a result of muscular dystrophy, his final remaining functions are full vocal range and the use of two fingers for self-transportation and self-abuse.

The patients giggle and smile, but the stern Mrs. Ratched-like nurse (Brenda Fricker—an Oscar winner for, ironically, My Left Foot) will have none of that. So Rory concentrates on breaking Michael out of his shell; Rory is the only one who can understand Michael's consonant-challenged speech, and he acts as Michael's interpreter while Michael applies for independent living.

Anyone interested in seeing just how these two succeed in the day-to-day details of living on their own will be disappointed. The film glosses over a few small tribulations (dropping a toothbrush) and victories (getting into bed) and assumes that all problems will be solved with similar gusto.

The boys hire a new caregiver, Siobhan (Romola Garai), a cute blonde they've met in a bar. She has a sly wink and smile that could cause whiplash in most men, and she takes a liking to the boys. It goes without saying that poor, defenseless, sheltered Michael falls for her. The movie drives this home by sending the trio to a costume ball where Siobhan dresses up as a sexy Florence Nightingale in full nurse regalia.

Directed by Damien O'Donnell with a feel for atmosphere and working-class dampness, Rory O'Shea goes through the expected motions, with Michael learning about life for the first time and Rory trying to live his life to the fullest. Both Robertson and McAvoy are able-bodied in real life, and they sink, Rain Man-like, into their roles, imitating every potential quirk to a "T." They even manage to make both characters likable.

But it's the timid, amateur filmmaking that trips up the film. It tries and fails to juggle humor, sentimentality and political correctness with its punk war cry. O'Donnell crams in everything from the "tearful hospital scene" to the comical "audition montage," in which several unworthy applicants turn up for the helper position while Rory and Michael stare in shocked silence. It's more of a collection of sequences scrabbled together from past moviegoing experiences than something from the heart.

Rory O'Shea Was Here (R; 104 min.), directed by Damien O'Donnell, written by Jeffrey Caine, photographed by Peter Robertson and starring James McAvoy, Steven Robertson, Romola Garai and Brenda Fricker, opens Friday at select theaters valleywide.

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From the March 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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