My Left Foot (1989)

by | Sep 2, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

My Left Foot (1989)

Starring Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker
Studio:  Miramax
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16×9
Audio: DD 5.1, French Language Track
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Extras: The Real Christy Brown (documentary); An Inspirational Journey: The Making of My Left Foot; Stills Gallery; Reviews
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: *****

In a key scene of Jim Sheridan’s debut and award-winning film, My Left
Foot the inimitable Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis), poet, painter,
and real life inspiration to the many who live with Cerebral Palsy,
courts a pretty nurse named Mary (Ruth McCabe) assigned to him at a
formal awards ceremony in his honor.

Up to this point, Brown has faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles in
his own life: namely impaired speech, an uncooperative, crippling body,
and bitter loneliness that accompanies such a disabling life condition.
Many of the country folks in Dublin cannot assimilate with Brown and
his Cerebral Palsy; others are too ignorant to understand that the
condition-impairment of brain/motor function — does not affect a
person’s cognitive abilities.  Yet this determined man doesn’t
give in. Though many reject him, he turns to artistic pursuits for
solace. And when the opportunity to woo a kind-hearted nurse presents
itself, Brown seizes the moment, unabashedly, and presses Mary for a
date.

Repeatedly, Mary politely declines Brown’s invitations, though after
spending time around the engaging Irishman and opening her heart to
reading his personal story, (and his proddings for a date) she has a
change of heart.

It is a stirring scene mirrored many times in this life-affirming
movie, made in 1989 and now available from Miramax.  
Director Sheridan expertly uses the meeting of Mary and Christy —
cutting in and out — to frame the film. As Mary gradually learns about
Christy’s personal highs and lows, so does the viewer. 

The real life Christy Brown, one of 22 children (13 survived) was no
quitter. At a time (1940s) when many children with Cerebral Palsy were
institutionalized, he faced daunting odds to survive, amidst poverty
and little chance to develop his mind. (At one point, he sat underneath
the stairs of the Brown’s staircase, scribbling messages no one
understood) Instead of retreating, however, Brown learned to use his
left foot masterfully: typing, painting, and propelling himself around
the house on the ground, and eventually on a wheelchair. Of
paramount  importance to Christy, and a certain high point, is the
one person who accepted and loved him unconditionally from the start —
his mother — portrayed with warmth and tenderness by Brenda Fricker.

The performances of Lewis and Fricker merit every bit of the praise
received. Lewis won Best Oscar and Fricker Best Supporting Actress that
year for their roles in My Left Foot.  In the DVD extras, we learn
that the dedicated method actor Lewis spent six weeks studying the
movements of a Cerebral Palsy patient, determined to nail the
portrayal.  And that he did. Crouching over and struggling to
pronounce his every word, Lewis immerses himself in the role with
vigor.  For two hours, physically and emotionally, this talented
young Brit is Christy Brown, a man who overcame great challenges and a
possessed an invincible spirit.  Lewis’s brave acting gives
credibility to the exploits of a “disabled” man.

Where Lewis captivates, Fricker consoles.  Fricker’s turn as the
unflappable Mrs. Brown is another major heart line in this film. 
She wheels the young Christy (played convincingly by Hugh O’Conor)
around town in a cart, takes him to Mass, and supports his
rehabilitation in every way. A particularly poignant scene has Mrs.
Brown, a novice brick layer, attempt to build a room for her son in
order to bolster his spirits and return him to painting.  With
little conception of how to perform the task, she does have the will to
get started and encourage Christy.  Fricker, as Mrs. Brown,
handles it beautifully.   Perhaps Sheridan’s work as director
was made easier  by the simple act of putting the camera on a
mother (Fricker) while she naturally communicates the love for her son.

Other actors make noteworthy contributions to this beautiful film. The
late Ray McAnally’s performance as the gruff father — at times ignorant
and at other times a boastful working man — balances well with
Fricker’s devoted Mrs. Brown.  Fiona Shaw radiates a warm spirit
as Dr. Eileen Cole, the physician who works closely with Christy as a
teenager, improving his speech and movements. (Christy falls for her,
though her intentions are genuine)  Hugh O’Conor, is exceptional
as the young Christy,  making Lewis’s young adult version of Brown
seem like a natural progression.  And McCabe shows a genuine
sincerity in the role of Mary — a woman who, with the exception of his
mother and family members, is the sole person to accept and fully love
Christy. The digitally remastered DVD provides exceptional video and
audio, enhancing the viewing experience.   Both extra
segments — The Inspirational Journey, The Making of My Left Foot and
The Real Christy Brown — add insights into Brown’s life and the many
people who came to know him well.

My Left Foot gained acclaim from critics because of fine writing by
Shane Connaughton (and Sheridan), insightful direction by Sheridan, and
the outstanding performances by Lewis, Fricker and many others. 
At its core, the film is a story of hope that emerged from Christy
Brown’s remarkable life. He was a  talented man with unfaltering
spirit who like everyone else in this world, longed for lasting and
meaningful human connection. Three cheers for Christy!

— Jim Fasulo

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