Inside I’m Dancing

Left to my own devices this is not a film that I would have watched. Nothing about it appealed to me, it seemed to come into the category in my mind of the sort of film that has a ‘message’ or a ‘point’ to put across to the rest of the world, some patronising statement about how disabled people are just like ‘normal’ people, the sort of film designed to induce pity as a way of making people feel better about themselves, and a sickly sweet way of looking at the hard facts of life. However my mother watched it, and enjoyed it so much (she rarely watches films) that she insisted I watch it as well. Begrudgingly I sat down, prepared for a couple of hours of maudlin sentimentality, and was pleasantly shocked and surprised at the film I saw. This film turned stereotypes upside down, and danced on them. A tough, unsentimental film, that looked beyond appearances, to the people behind the wheelchair, and gently exposed the fact that there is no such ‘race’ as the disabled, that everyone is a person in their own right, more than just a physical ailment. In some ways this is truly a gem of a movie. Everything combined to make it more than it should have been. It was balanced on three legs- acting, script and direction, and if any one of these things had been wobbly the whole thing would have collapsed, yet everything was perfectly cohesive, and put together in the best way possible. It’s *not* a movie about disability. It’s a movie about friendship, first love and the human will to live and be independent of others.

Michael Connelly sits in a wheelchair in a home for the disabled. Continually frustrated by the slothlike life around him, yet unable to do anything, and unable to envisage a different life for himself, he is relegated to watching mindless TV day in, and day out with occasinal detours into therepeutic painting. Afflicted with cystic fibrosis, it is clear he is intelligent, and his failure to be able to speak causes him immense frustration. In wheels Rory O Shea, an abrasive, loudmouthed newcomer, rebelling against the atrophy which the home represents to him. Rory is a breath of fresh air with his blond spiked hair, Slipknot posters and his music system that for him is a solace beyond anything else. Yet amazingly this brash young man, is the only one who can actually understand Michael’s garbled speech, and he gradually becomes his link to the outside world. Rory has been denied independent living three times due to his immaturity, and fretful of the walls closing in around him, he befriends Michael, enticing him into exciting situations, beyond anything the other man has ever encountered. They indulge in various escapades, earning the dislike of the staff, and gradually each finds a true friend in the other. A subplot involving Michael’s father, means it is possible for them to move out together, and face life without confines. Siobhan enters; a young, gorgeous shelfstacker, who the boys recruit as a carer- mainly for her looks, and quick comebacks, and things start to go wrong, as feelings collide, and the true handicaps both physical and emotional come to light, culminating in a final denouement that is sure to raise some emotion.

This is the briefest plot outline possible, the whole story is far more detailed, and the nuances of the three way friendship obviously far more obvious. Yet above all this is a film with a great deal of humour, some terrific oneliners, and some hard truths about the human condition. It is neither depressing nor sentimental, indeed it is almost uplifting. The focus of the friendship between Michael and Rory was beautifully dealt with in a careful and considerate manner, only once straying towards a saccharine moment- and that was swiftly diluted.

Rory O Shea was played by James McAvoy. I’ve always had a great deal of admiration for James McAvoy as an actor, and it was merely confirmed by this film. He was so different, I almost didn’t recognise him. As the rebellious wheelchair confined man, who changes within the space of the film from an utterly immature person, to a true friend, he is highly convincing. The frustration and thwarted desires of his character almost leapt off the screen they were so intense, and the conflict experienced was mirrored by his acting talent in such a way as to evoke intense sympathy rather than pity. The second best actor in the film after McAvoy, he lit up the screen in every scene he was in, and was so convincingly disabled I actually thought he was. Despite the very limited verbal communication of his character, his skill and talent shone through, mainly through the terrific use of his eyes, to communicate more emotion than most people can do with words. Romula Garai as Siobhan their carer is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. This actress proved her mettle here in a film very different from her usual costume dramas, as the working class girl, who tends to the two boys, and whose piercing insights, turn the world around for both Michael and Rory. Personally however I found her character was just a little bit too articulate for the type of person she was, I found it unconvincing that a shelf stacker with little formal education was capable of putting across her points so succinctly. Eileen the nursing home director was Brenda Fricker: This woman is a terrific actress even if she does seem to be wheeled out for every Irish funded film (this film was funded by both Ireland and England,) and though her part was small, she was eminently convincing and very funny.

An added feature of the film was a very interesting contemporary music soundtrack from hard rock, to Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ which is used in an incredibly evocative sequence midway through, stopping at modern and 70’s/80’s pop music.

I highly recommend this film. It is warm, hilariously funny, and above all the warmth and depth of the subject portrayed is very very touching. To paraphrase James McAvoy this isn’t a film about disabled people, it’s a film about Rory and Michael, and as such it is outstandingly dealt with in a mature and able way. Watch it if you want a truly forthright and honest view of the world. Don’t watch it if you are an extremely sensitive person, or if you are the sort of person who is totally politically correct, because as previously said, this is not a film of stereotypes!