Films about physically challenged people are a tricky business. In the past, we would have called them films about the disabled or the handicapped, but the instability of those phrases suggests how uncomfortable we are with what that terminology represents. Aware of that uneasiness, films that tackle the issues of the physically handicapped usually take one of two paths: 1) They craft overly sentimental parables about overcoming obstacles (think Lt. Dan in Forest Gump), or 2) They utilize disabilities as a narrative device which create discomfort or hopelessness (like that cerebral palsy sex scene in Storytelling). This brings us to Rory O'Shea Was Here, a film that nobly attempts to balance between the dual pitfalls of shallow sentiment and suicidal ennui.
Michael (Steven Robertson) is a lifetime inhabitant of the Carrigmore Home for the Disabled, whose cerebral palsy affects his speech to the point of incomprehension. His silent days pass uneventfully until Rory (James McAvoy) arrives. A wheelchair-bound misanthrope with a loud mouth, spiked hair, and a life-threatening case of muscular dystrophy, Rory prods Michael to dream of life beyond their "imprisonment." With Rory providing the voice and Michael coming up with the cash, the two move to a flat in Dublin and hire an inexperienced, beautiful caretaker (Ramola Garai).
There's a built-in cheese factor here--the ensuing plot is something akin to The Odd Couple with motorized wheelchairs--but with a few unfortunate exceptions, O'Shea avoids the overly manipulative moments that have ruined similar films. That said, the script careens from comical mishaps to heartstring-tugging scenes of pain and isolation, and while the cartoonish antics prevent O'Shea from achieving the gritty, realistic depths that might have made it truly powerful, they also provide some entertainment throughout an otherwise depressing tale. In the end, Rory O'Shea Was Here is an attempt to make a poignant statement about the equality of the physically challenged, but to do so without really challenging its audience--a well-intentioned, sweet, and totally impossible goal.