My Left Foot well-acted, inspiring yet not sentimental
MY LEFT FOOT
Directed by Jim Sheridan.
Screenplay by Jim Sheridan and
Based on the novel by Christy Brown
Starring Daniel Day Lewis,
Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally,
Fiona Shaw, Ruth McCabe,
and Hugh O'Conor.
At the Boston Film Festival
By JIGNA DESAI
and MARIE E. V. COPPOLA
THIS FILM IS NOT the story of a handicapped artist, but of an artist who happens to have cerebral palsy. My Left Foot chronicles the life of Christy Brown, painter and author of My Left Foot, the autobiography upon which this film is based. Born with cerebral palsy in 1932 in Dublin, physicians warned his family that he would likely be a vegetable; but his mother's love and faith encouraged him to overcome this label and prove his intelligence.
A young Christy, played by talented Hugh O'Conor, painstakingly expresses his awareness by writing "Mother" with his left foot in one of the most touching and riveting scenes of the movie. The film follows Brown's development from birth through this "first" word and his tender and frustrating adolescence to his first meeting in 1959 with Mary Carr, his future wife. Along the way, we see how these events mold his career as a successful painter and author. Daniel Day Lewis (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Room with a View) portrays Brown with sensitivity and passion, capturing his spirit as well as his frustration.
Day Lewis stated that his motivation for being involved in the film was that it centered on issues of disability that are not often examined, such as sexuality. He plays the physical and psychological difficulties with much poignancy and passion. In a guttural voice touched with an Irish lilt, Day Lewis portrays the fierce determination, spunk, and charm of Brown in the face of compelling circumstances such as poverty, loneliness, and limited control of his body (his left foot); but these difficulties empowered Brown's art (as well as Day Lewis' portrayal) and resulted in the paintings that reflected his life -- simple, stark, and raw but touched with a loving beauty.
Director Jim Sheridan proves his subtle deftness by presenting a film that is inspiring and emotional, but not sentimental. Sheridan's debut feature film is not the usual formula success story -- instead he manages to reveal the darker and desperate side of Brown as well as the creative artist. In one dynamic scene, Day Lewis as the sexually and emotionally frustrated Brown creates a scene in a restaurant upon discovering that his love for Dr. Cole, his therapist and teacher, is unrequited.
Day Lewis' performance as well as Sheridan's directing make My Left Foot a film absolutely worth seeing. This story of an artist who defeated the odds against physical handicap, degrading stereotypes, and poverty will move you and astound you with its candidness. Although no more screenings are scheduled during the Boston Film Festival, the film will likely open in the Boston area in the near future.