(director: Steven Sawalich; screenwriters: Bret McKinney/Mark Andrew Olsen/Kelly Kennemer; cinematographer: Irek Hartowicz; editor: Timothy Alverson; music: James T. Sale; cast: Ron Livingston (Richard Pimentel), Melissa George (Christine), Michael Sheen (Art Honneyman), Yul Vázquez (Mike Stolz), Hector Elizondo (Ben Padrow), Rebecca De Mornay (Richard’s Mom), Leslie Nielsen (Bill Austin), Peter Crone (Nikos); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brett Donowho/Steven Sawalich; MGM; 2007)
“It’s just too bad that the pious treatment given the deserving Pimentel never translated into a more engaging film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Steven Sawalich (“Sunday in the Park with George and Phil”) directs this inspirational biopic on Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) as if it were a made for cable TV, as it lacks some of the higher qualities that go into a feature film. The unimaginative screenplay is credited to Bret McKinney, Mark Andrew Olsen and Kelly Kennemer.
Pimentel was one of the driving forces behind the Americans with Disabilities Act and was a celebrated public speaker (especially as a Fortune 500 speaker), who suffered severe hearing damage in Vietnam and then found a new challenge to life as an activist for the handicapped. It’s a well-intentioned but poorly constructed film that never does its subject justice as it moves laboriously through our heroes life by painting it with broad brushstrokes and the usual stale plot clichés and in all its earnestness squeezes the life out of the film. The shame is that Pimentel’s story of his fight over discrimination and his inner demons is worth telling, but this shoestring budget film never ties things up in a way that is as moving as it should be.
It follows Richard’s unhappy childhood in Portland, Oregon with a psychologically unstable mother (Rebecca De Mornay), his discovery that he has an ability as a public speaker in high school, his surprising rejection for a collegescholarship and in his dejected mood volunteers for the army in 1970. That results in his going deaf during his combat stint in Vietnam due to a bomb explosion, and to make matters worse having a permanent ringing in his ears. Richard now gets into college and after graduation gets a high paying executive job with an insurance firm. But things change after a bias incident in a pancake house, where he’s refused service because he’s with the spastic wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim Art (Michael Sheen), a smut-talking savant whom the annoying waitress says is repulsive for the customers to look at. Pimentel decides to no longer run away from who he is and quits his button-down job where he never told his bosses that he was deaf and becomes an activist getting vets jobs. He’s supported with emotional help by a bunch of vet friends, including tough-talking and hot-headed funny man Mike Stolz (Yul Vázquez); and he takes comfort in his open relationship with the free-spirited beauty Christine (Melissa George).
There’s an ongoing soundtrack of period rock anthems, from Steppenwolf to Jefferson Airplane, to keep with the changing decades. The film’s theme revolves around the belief that “most people die without finding their own genius–the music within.” It’s just too bad that the pious treatment given the deserving Pimentel never translated into a more engaging film.
REVIEWED ON 11/29/2007 GRADE: C+