Rory O'Shea Was Here is a film about the physically challenged which is neither sentimental nor condescending. Although the relentless, upbeat nature of the two wheelchair-bound lead characters sometimes belies credibility, director Damien O'Donnell has achieved a warm and uplifting movie which is marred only by a brief drift into melodrama in the middle.

Exhibitors should think more The Eighth Day than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, although the latter has exerted some influence over the opening section. Marketing is concentrating on the boisterous nature of the two protagonists, and positions the film as a feel-good drama rather than a worthy but dull look at the disabled. If audiences can be persuaded to watch a film about the physically challenged-and if they can be convinced that it's okay to enjoy the humor of the situations-they'll have an enjoyable time.

The story begins in a nursing institution in Dublin. Michael (Steven Robertson) is an introspective, wheelchair-bound lad with a speech impediment. When the extroverted, paralyzed Rory (James McAvoy) arrives at the home, the two become firm friends-mainly because Rory is the only one who can understand him. Rory's plan is to take advantage of a government scheme which will allow him to live outside of the home, with almost full independence. Michael helps him achieve this aim, and the two move into an apartment. But as they try to live as normal a life as possible, their disablities begin to frustate them.

The film succeeds because of the performances of the two leads. These add a lot of lift to a conventional structure. McAvoy is thoroughly convincing as Rory, a twentysomething man who refuses to let the fact that he is almost totally paralyzed destroy his will to live. He makes Rory an instantly sympathetic character, permitting the audience to laugh at his predicaments without feeling awkward. Robertson is equally excellent, essaying the stuttering body language of his character with skill and effortlessly provoking audience concern for his emotional turmoil.

O'Donnell's direction is straightforward, but manages to hit all the right notes. The scenes in the institution have a smart, self-deprecating humor to them. This is perhaps the best part of the film, as it succeeds in portraying the characters in a feisty and unpatronizing way. But when they move into the world outside, melodrama creeps in. Each falls for their pretty nurse, and predictable situations occur. But a twist in act three is very smart, and pushes the main theme-that of a young man refusing to be cowed by his situation-back to the forefront.

The screenplay by Jeffrey Caine is based on a story by Christian O'Reilly, who encountered someone similar to Rory in a Center for Independent Living in Dublin. While there's some artifice in the plotting, the characters have the ring of truth about them. This makes for good cinema, as their disabilities give them a perspective on everyday life that most of us thankfully don't have.