James McAvoy as Rory O’Shea
Steven Robertson as Michael Connolly
Romola Garai as Siobhan
Brenda Fricker as Eileen
Ruth McCabe as Annie
Tom Hickey as Con O’Shea
Gerard McSorley as Fergus Connolly
Adam Fergus as Declan
Alan King as Tommy
Ofo Uhiara as Peter
Stanley Townsend as Interviewer
Donal Toolan as Interviewer
Emmet Kirwan as Angry Man
What starts out as a buddy comedy with the insensitivity of the Farrelly Brothers ultimately turns into a heart-warming look at those suffering from debilitating diseases, showing that they have the same thoughts and feelings as everyone else.
Two wheelchair-bound friends strive to escape the confines of an Irish home for the disabled to achieve a bit of independence. Rory O’Shea (James McAvoy) is a brash loudmouth, who otherwise is unable to move, while his friend Michael Connelly (Steven Robertson) is hardly understandable due to his cerebral palsy. Together, they finagle their way around the system to get an apartment together, bringing in a girl they met in a bar named Siobhan (Romola Garai) to help care for them.
When you consider the idea of a comedy about two guys forced to spend all their time in wheelchairs, you can’t help but think of something truly tasteless from the mind of the Farrelly Brothers, who have never shied away from sensitive topics in which few people would find humor. This may be one of the reasons why Rory O’Shea Was Here is such a hard movie to love right away, because a lot of the early humor comes from speech impediment of poor Michael Connelly, who can barely talk due to his cerebral palsy. Along comes the smarmy Rory O’Shea, a victim of muscular dystrophy who is able to talk up a storm. At first, they hate each other, but they become fast friends when Michael realizes that Rory is the only who person who can understand what he is saying.
The smooth talking Rory wants to be free of the home, and he finds that the introverted Michael makes the perfect foil for his exploits as he tries to break him out of his shell. With Michael’s help, Rory finds a way to get around the board that doesn’t think he’s responsible enough to be on his own, and they make quite a pair of roommates. Rory tries to look on the bright side of things, but Michael has a tragic story, since after his mother died, his government official father abandoned him to the home in order to deny his existence. It’s the type of pathos that makes Michael immediately likeable, making the jokes about his speech impediment even harder to laugh about. Fortunately, Damien O’Donnell’s film justifies the earlier humor by transforming itself into a heart-warming tale about two boys trying to attain their freedom, and finding love and friendship in the bargain.
Scotsman James McAvoy, who has received a few nods as a young actor to keep an eye on, plays the title character with a personality and charm that women should enjoy, but his smarminess often makes his character less likeable, especially how he uses Michael to get things yet doesn’t respect him as an equal. Steven Robertson’s performance as Michael is far more impressive, since it’s a tougher role, having to talk and make facial contortions, while also showing the emotions this palsy-stricken boy is feeling. Despite his limited vocabulary, he is able to get those emotions across, making it quite a counterpoint to Javier Bardem’s performance in The Sea Inside.
Likewise, the gorgeous Romola Garai (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) does a fine job playing Siobhan, the party girl who must take on the responsibility of caring for the duo. Of course, as soon as she enters the picture, it’s pretty obvious that things are building to a bit of a love triangle of sorts, and the movie quickly takes on the feel of a John Hughes teen romance/comedy. As would be expected, the smooth talking Rory becomes jealous of the attention she pays to Michael, but that just makes you want to root for Michael more, since having such a great-looking girlfriend would give him such a boost.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing collection of songs in the film’s soundtrack, thanks to Nick Angel, who assembled the tunes for so many great Working Titles films like About A Boy and Bridget Jones’ Diary. This certainly helps keep the movie in the realm of those types of Brit comedies.
The biggest problem with O’Donnell’s crowd-pleasing movie is that it jumps around too much, and few people will be able to enjoy the entire movie from beginning to end since its three acts are so different. I was bothered by the insensitivity at first, won over by the romance and humor in the middle section, and then thrown off by the third act’s high drama and sentimentality that threatened to kill off all the earlier humor. Fortunately, the writing is pretty good, and by that time, you’re already well absorbed into the lives of these three characters.
The Bottom Line:
If you enjoy British comedies with tinges of romance and drama, Rory O’Shea Was Here has enough enjoyable scenes to make it worthwhile. It creates such a strange mix of emotions from beginning to end, it may be hard for anyone to truly love every second of it. Some may also find it hard to relate to the protagonists due to their handicaps.
Rory O’Shea Was Here opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, and expands wider later in February and in March.