It remains debatable whether an actor can play a severely handicapped character without devolving into disrespectful affectations, but there’s little doubt that Michael Sheen stumbles in trying to pull off this delicate feat in Music Within. As Art, a wheelchair-bound man with cerebral palsy, Sheen—sporting a scraggly beard, a beret, and an ascot—diligently mimics the strained speech and distorted physicality of those afflicted with the muscular condition, all at the expense of crafting an actual character. Spouting the occasional lewd remark to random women, Art is primarily a compendium of gesticulations, and this conception of him as a drooling, stammering jester is made more objectionable by the fact that Steven Sawalich’s film is a based-on-real-life biopic of Art’s best friend Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston), a tireless advocate who helped revolutionize workplace rights for the disabled. Music Within recounts Richard’s unhappy childhood with an unloving, psychologically unstable mother (Rebecca De Mornay), his passion for public speaking, the Vietnam tour of duty that—thanks to a bomb landing in his tent—left him mostly deaf, and his subsequent work on behalf of the physically and mentally disadvantaged. As a true story, it’s pretty sketchy stuff, especially once the story moves past Richard’s quirky upbringing and starts in with “listen to the music within” life lessons. And Sawalich’s TV movie-grade direction isn’t up to the task of enlivening material that eventually settles into a predictable, torpid narrative structure. Richard’s relationship troubles with girlfriend Christine (Melissa George) and unresolved anger issues form the latter half’s chief dramatic tension, which never proves to be that great, mainly because one can increasingly feel the filmmakers straining to wrap things up in a suitably rousing manner. Still, Livingston, a consistently appealing presence who exudes unpretentious everyman charm, successfully sells even the corniest of scenarios—the most groan-worthy of which is a discriminatory pancake house offense that, per uplifting melodramatic requirements—is rectified 20 years later with some heartwarming syrup.
- 93 min
- Steven Sawalich
- Bret McKinney, Mark Andrew Olsen, Kelly Kennemer
- Ron Livingston, Melissa George, Michael Sheen, Yul Vazquez, Rebecca De Mornay, Hector Elizondo
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