Nothing exploits prejudice against people with disabilities quite like a didactic sentimental movie designed to combat prejudice against people with disabilities. The moment we meet the title character of Rory O’Shea Was Here, we know just what he’s about. Rory (James McAvoy) has gelled spiky hair, a nose ring, and a mouth that won’t stop berating people with cutting Irish wit. He also has muscular dystrophy, and from where he sits, in his wheelchair-with-headrest (his body is immobile except for two fingers on his right hand), the world is a cheap and patronizing place. I wonder what he’d have to say about this movie? At a residential home, Rory meets Michael (Steven Robertson), a young man with cerebral palsy who speaks in a yowling, stretched-out gargle that no one but Rory can comprehend. He becomes Michael’s buddy and ”translator,” and the two split for Dublin, where they land in a spiffy color-coordinated flat. But will they be accepted for who they are?
Considering that director Damien O’Donnell and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine never stop defining them by their afflictions, I’m not sure they’ll have much of a chance. Rory, as a character, belongs to an honorable film tradition of bitter yet sensitive handicapped rebels who don’t want your pity, man. Yet as charming a devil as the actor James McAvoy may be, the movie gives Rory, in his defensive brashness, no layers, no dimension of personal dream. There’s a dreadful subplot in which Rory and Michael hire a caretaker (Romola Garai) who looks like Kate Winslet crossed with Drew Barrymore, and we’re meant to think, ”Gee, the poor blokes, having to be around such a winsome sex-bomb lass!” Didn’t it occur to the people who made this movie that men in wheelchairs have girlfriends too? Rory O’Shea Was Here gazes at the physically afflicted and just about begs for our sympathy long after we’ve grown restless and eager to feel something else.