DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Garden State, Sideways, Sunshine State, Lone Star, Junebug, Juno, Thumbsucker , Rocket Science, The Great Debaters, Loggerheads , Elizabethtown, The Last Kiss, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Music Within

Title:  Garden State

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: English, USA

Running time: 103 Min

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  Fox Searchlight and Miramax

Director; Writer: Zach Braff  (also his own personal site)


Cast:   Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm, Peter Sarsgaard, Method Man, Jean Smart

Technical: Panavision 2.3-1 widescreen  dolby digital

Relevance to doaskdotell site:  Peripetia



 I started out my own working adult life in New Jersey, at the summerish age of 26. Jersey, the in-between Everyman bedroom state. In fact, my first apartment was the Princeton Arms, now in East Windsor, at the time back in 1970 it was Cranbury, off route 571 between Hightstown and Princeton. I worked then at the David Sarnoff Research Center for RCA in Princeton (almost), and sometimes had lunch at Buxton’s. I would do bike rides on the coastal plain country truck farm roads.  Once I had a day long motorcycle EasyRide with a friend who would later be my boss at NBC—the ride covered Princeton, Flemington, Somerville, those little towns where the Piedmont starts. Once I got stopped an shook down by a cop on 571 (this kind of thing does happen in the movie) for driving in the passing lane (of a four-lane highway) without having anything to pass. The conversation sounded like something from an Indie movie. RCA would provide my only layoff (in 1971) until the end-of-my-IT-career at ING at the end of 2001. In the meantime, I would live in New Jersey one more time, in 1973-74, in “north Jersey” in the towns of Caldwell and then Piscataway, while working for Univac. That was before moving into New York City in 1974 to come out—in those days you moved to The City. 


Here I will tip my imaginary hat to this first feature written and directed by 29-year-old Zach Braff. You can follow his blog at the link above.


In the move, the Everyman character Andrew Largeman, played by Zach Braff himself, is an aspiring TV actor in LA (of course, otherwise Canada!) who comes back to his native New Jersey  when his mother dies. Now here I make a note of comparison again with my own situation as an “artist.” I’ve lived in New Jersey, New York, Dallas, and Minneapolis at various times for long periods. I, an only child, would return home to my parents in northern Virginia many times for visits (my father died in 1986 so then it would be my mother alone)—and feel recharged when I would return to my own apartment or condo (often in Central Time) after a flight to return to my own life, to the life of associates, aesthetics, business, friendships, quasi-lovers, whatever—the things that mattered to me but not to my parents or to their world—the life that I had created, that seemed to family to exist in an unreachable space or domain, like another dimension. So it must have been for Andrew—except that he never came home. He built his own life as an actor and artist in LA, and we see very little of that, other than what he says about it (and one scene where he just about gets fired paying his dues as a waiter). So I wanted to see more about that life, not the old life in New Jersey. Now, the trouble with saying this is that Andrew has been sedated for years by his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm) over guilt from a boyhood accident that paralyzed his mother and contributed to her eventual demise—so that can explain his absence.  Okay, his one movie role so far was a network movie where he plays a retarded quarterback (that is an oxymoron). But, given the charisma of Andrew’s role (at one point he is asked if he is retarded!?!), I don’t buy that completely—Andrew’s life in LA must be pretty interesting. Certainly, in my last two years of Minneapolis before returning “home” for family reasons, my hanging around the Twin Cities film and acting community (ifpmsp) was very interesting.


Now maybe life in New Jersey isn’t so different. His other friends include Mark (Peter Sarsgaard, a gravedigger), and Samantha (Natalie Portman), so the opportunity for romance will generate a plot (though without the usual beats expected in most screenplays) and an eventual ambiguous payoff when it’s time for Andrew to go back.. Now Mark likes to hang out and do drugs, while another one of his buddies dresses in medieval armor and still another one stops him when he is riding around on an “easy rider” motorcycle like he was Peter Fonda. Okay, maybe he is waking up, but Zack clearly makes himself the center of gravity for the movie, and seems so dominating that there is not a lot of suspense. There are opportunities that don’t provide the usually expected crises. For example, Andrew goes to see Dr. Cohen (Ron Leibman) for an MRI for his migraines. No, nothing comes of it (no Lance Armstrong type story here)—but in the waiting room he gets dirty-danced by a pooch, and then when he strips for the MRI you see that his friends (at a “strip poker” orgy the night before  use his (recently? – he is an actor, you know) almost hairless chest as a whiteboard like a plaster cast. The best moment in the film may be when he confronts his father, near the end, about the time to get off the meds and feel good at himself, as he keeps his hand flat on his father’s bare chest.


In fact, the widescreen film is replete with detail images—messy apartments and homes filled with clutter an knick knacks, and interesting, cavernous scenery (the quarry)—contrasted with a few scenes of humorous simplicity. For example, when Zack is lying in his barren white bedroom in his own apartment, there is absolutely nothing—except that I don’t believe it. Or when he tries on a homemade shirt that matches wallpaper, well—the picture melts into just one head. This is, after all, an art film.


I’ll get back to the acting stuff—I think an interesting premise for a sequel for this film would be Andrew’s character trying to make it in LA (or perhaps O Canada!) – and winding up on the “A-List” as perhaps Zach will or already has himself.  This is justified by the movie in that, all in all, Andrew comes across as the one character capable of doing great things with his life, on his own, if only he will. (Maybe that is because Zach already has.) I have an ulterior motive for saying this. One of my “do ask do tell” scripts sitting on my hard drive in Final Draft (all 179 pages – that’s 179 minutes and that’s too long if you’re not Robert Altman, and in CinemaScope to beat for the layered simul shots) is based on just such a notion—a layered story of a (heterosexual) young actor, trying to make it, and befriending an older gay man with whom he can engage in symbiotic manipulations leading to some surprising plot twists and revelations. (I have the character going to law school and interning in a law firm as a second choice—John Grisham style—and learning to do Clark Kent-like sports feats to get his roles.) Of course, you’re not supposed to give away your logline without going through an agent or a third party—or does that make sense in this day of Google hacking and blogs.  A good title for such a film would be “A-List” all right. Folks, follow the honor system. Don’t steal my story.


In any case, a serious treatment of what it takes to make it in the movies hasn’t been done very often. There is a lot more territory to explore, with very realistic situations, in combinatorial fashion.


The Feb. 2006 issue of Giant features a picture story about Zach Braff and his budding comedy show Scrubs, in which Zach is shown visually in a gradual if partial revelation.


Fox Searchlight likes to illuminate us with a number of these big character-driven indie pictures, and another typical example form late 2004 is Sideways.:  124 min, R, dir. Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt”). This is a combo road movie, situation comedy, and John-Sayles-like locale picture. Here the setting is the mid California wine country, although the trip starts with San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara first. Indeed, paradise might be a rental car in the wine country on a hot dry clear spring day. Here soap opera has-been actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is getting married in a week, and he takes his friend middle school English teacher aka novelist Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) on the trip of adventure and, of course, getting laid. Now Miles is a lot more sensitive and obviously gawky and “unattractive,” rather like a female bird. He has gotten divorced, but looks forward to making his life count for something if only Conundrum Press will buy his novel The Day After Yesterday (a bit of a tautology maybe—this is a writer who is stuck!!)  But actor Jack has his problems to:  when he takes off his shirt, there is no hair on his chest, but he does not have the sculpture of Tom Welling. Though a man of action, he is over the hill, too, waiting to be rejuvenated by a new wife. But he must get laid first, and the situations pile up, leading to his breaking his nose, then to a comic breaking-and-entering by Miles to rescue his friend from a bear who looks like the headless horseman.  At one point, Jack suggests that Miles self-publish—the intentional publicity might pose legal problems for a teacher. I hate to tell the ending, but it matters: Conundrum Press “passes” on the work, and Miles feels he is worth nothing, that he has accomplished nothing with his life of his own.  But what about his long teaching career—that is public service for a greater good than himself.  At one scene, near the end, Miles is teaching is English class of eight graders as they read from John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, one of my favorite novels. Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh provide as much female support as conceivable to this script—but it is stuck with the factor that the characters just aren’t really appealing enough to deserve a rooting interest.


Naming character-driven nests after states or areas is not new: consider dir. John Sayles and Sunshine State (2002, Sony Pictures Classics, 141 minutes, PG-13), which is a slow-paced penetrating overview of a network of characters affected by plans by big Florida real estate developers for Plantation Island with its two communities – Lincoln Beach, a more conventional retirement community, and Delrona Beach, a well-off African-American enclave and at one time a slave holding. With Sayles, there is always plenty of irony, which provides indirect comedy in dramatic off-beat conversational scenes that are always engaging. I was this at a premiere at the Landmark Lagaoon Theater in Minneapolis in July 2002 with John Sayles and his wife present. This is not the glitzy Florida you see from an rent car as you drive around from one community to the next (although I have to admit, I am more familiar with South Florida, from I-4 (Tampa/Orlando all the way down, and have taken in little of the northern part; in 1986 I visited Belle Glade, put on the map by the AIDS crisis in the poor migrant worker community). Cast includes Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Jane Alexander, Ralph Waite, Timothy Hutton, Mary Alice, Mary Steenburgen, Tom Wright, Alan King.


Lone Star (1996, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. John Sayles, 135 min, R) is another slow-building regional drama by John Sayles. This time the state is Texas. Chris Cooper plasy Sheriff Sam Deeds, who uncovers a 40-year old skeleton of his predecessor, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McGonaughey), and his journey takes him into a colorful conundrum in a widescreen, grand mystery film, a lot of it outdoors and along the border. What if Sayles had made a film called “Crescent City”: what could he have uncovered, how developers and politicians destroyed the natural wetlands and neglected the levees that should have protected New Orleans from Katrina. I wish Sayles had gotten around to making a movie about the Big Easy in time. He would have warned us. 


Junebug (2005, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Phil Morrison, wr. Angus MacLachlan, 107 min, R) is another regional topical piece about contrasting social cultures. This time, the location is around Winston-Salem, N.C. (my last visit there was in 1991) and some Blue Ridge scenery (Pilot Mountain). The title of the film may refer to a well-known insect, but it is also the name of an unborn child who apparently does not come to a good end. This time the prodigal son, George (Allesandro Nivola) returns to his rural North Carolina home with his British wife Madelaine (Embeth Davidtz) when she wants to sign up a codger, perhaps stroke-inhibited artist (Frank Hoyt Taylor) who has a lot of Christian ideas. George lives on two planes with his Christianity, an intellectual level that still allows him to direct the churchgoers “Come Home” a cappella, but the family is very down-to-earth and into all the family and domestic stuff. The film often dawdles over domestic stills. The plot shifts to George’s dropout brother played by Ben McKenzie (from “The O.C.”), who struggles with humanities, like understanding Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)’s novel Huckleberry Finn, with the bonding relationship between Huck and the slave. (I seem to remember this from college English at G.W. back in 1964; there was some passage in the novel that if you have hairy arms and “breast” you will get rich, a hint of the idea of a visual social and racial ranking system).  Here is a great quote from the film: “God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.”


Juno (2007, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 91 min, PG-13) makes reference to “Junebug” a couple of times in this story of the redemption that comes from an unplanned teen pregnancy. Let’s start with the funniest line: “I didn’t think he had it in ‘em.” (Juno’s pap, J.K. Simmons), referring to the “father”, teen Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) who still has a high pitched voice, can’t grow a mustache (by his own admission) and has almost no hair on his legs (except in one more grown up shot right at the end). The “mother,” Juno, is the sassy teen (Ellen Page) who can always talk in metaphors. She decides to give the baby up and meets the wealthy couple up the road in St. Cloud, MN (Jason Bateman and Allison Janey). But Juno sees too much of the male musician, and the couple winds up wanting to divorce. Fittingly, the adoptive mother will want to keep the baby, and the teen couple will get to fall in love without the responsibilities of motherhood. The script is constantly funny (the drugstore clerk says, “This is one doodle you can’t undo, Home Skillet” when Juno takes her third +- pregnancy test in one day there. There is one scene at the Mall of America, and the film was made in both Minnesota and Vancouver, and used the Minnesota Film Board.


Thumbsucker (2005, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Mike Mills, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, R, 96 min) starts with a likeable 17-year-old kid Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci) getting tongue-tied in a high school debate class. Pretty soon we see him at home, sucking his thumb out habit, even doing it in the stall. His father (Vincent D’Onofrio) is after him to grow up, while his nurse mother (Tilda Swinton) worships actors (one played by Benjamin Bratt) on cereal boxes. A pretty domestic setup. Now, I can think of another title (I won’t mention it here), but soon we learn that Justin is entirely heterosexual, as he ad a girl friend Rebecca (Kelli Garner), and they experiment with nudity though not sex. Justin looks quite young in this scene. Lou has an orthodontist (Keanu Reeves) who really wants to help him, with hypnotism, for example. Pretty soon, the school is involved, and they recommend meds. On Ritalin, Justin becomes a tiger, articulate and charismatic, and head of the debate team. Despite low grades, he gets into NYU. He is catching up fast. You see him medicating himself and in the nurse’s office. (Schools require that nurses dispense all prescription medication.) The movie right here gets into the mechanics of debate and some of the leading edge proposals and arguments. Justin soon starts to question whether he really needs the meds, or needs anything, after some minor illegal experimentation. This is a touching film about teenage rebellion muted. We identify with a teen (like Napoleon Dynamite, below) whose purpose itself seems muted before bursting out. This small film is in full anamorphic wide screen.


Since this film deals with debate, it is well to mention here the Computer Assisted Debate Project (CAD).  Web references:

CAD’s home page (an educational program in Atlanta):

President Bush’s remarks:


Rocket Science (2007, Picture House / HBO, dir. wr. Jeffrey Blitz, 98 min, R) is also about debate, and may have more substance underneath, but it doesn’t tie its loose ends and winds up being a bit annoying. As the movie starts, a charismatic high school student Ben Weskelbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto) freezes and goes mute after talking fast about agricultural policy in a New Jersey debate championship. Across the state, a stuttering teen Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) watches his home break up as dad leaves. A girl friend Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) gets him to join the debate team as he bikes around the neighborhood, sometimes with a suitcase, pseudo-homeless. It’s really frustrating to listen to him struggle to speak at all. There is a formal assignment, in which he has to debate the pro side of the proposition that the government should fund abstinence-only sex education programs. Now Ginny has developed the con side, which comprises a lot of stereotyped points that sound good but that don’t really get to the heart of the problem. The movies takes us a bit into the mechanics of formal debate, as if setting up the mechanism for “Opposing Viewpoints” that I discuss in a book review. But the process of debate is one thing, the real substance of the issue is another, and the characters struggling with it is still something more. In this movie, with its cutesy comedy and sound track, they never coalesce. We don’t see Hal grow as much as we would like.


The actual substance of the abstinence issue (in all of its Vatican faith-based “glory”) is discussed elsewhere on this site. Much of it deals with making heterosexual married couples as comfortable as possible with the commitment that they have made, to the extend that they need a monopoly on sexuality, and even on the emotions that embrace sexuality and culture. But that’s too existential and esoteric for a high school debate.


More comments on blogger here.


The Great Debaters (2007, MGM / The Weinstein Company / Harpo, dir. Denzel Washington, 123 min, PG-13).  This is apparently the second film that Oprah Winfrey has produced. A “negro college” team at Wiley works its way up to a showdown debate at Harvard in 1935, and along the way many of the arguments having to do with segregation, civil disobedience, and the meaning of the law are examined. Denzel Washington is the debate teacher; Forest Whitaker and Denzel Whitaker star. Much more detail on blogger, here.


Loggerheads (2005, Strand Releasing, dir. Tim Kirman, 95 min sug PG-13, strong thematic elements) is a slow moving drama that brings threads of three families in three separate areas of North Carolina: the famous coast (Kure Beach), Asheville, and Charlotte. There are many spectacular outdoor on location shots of all three areas, including one from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The style of the film seems to make more of a statement that the real story. The kernel of it is a likeable young drifter Mark (Kip Pardue) who sleeps illegally on the beach, and soon befriends a middle aged motel owner George (Michael Kelly). Soon we learn that both men are gay, and Mark is upfront about being HIV positive. They keep their relationship in the dimension of an intimate friendship (without sex) for a very long time. In the mean time, a woman who works for a car rental company in Asheville is reminded of her runaway son by another make renter, and goes on a quest to find him, having to deal with North Carolina’s rigid parental revocation laws to protect adoptive parents. You can guess that the son is Mark, and she is a minister’s wife, and he ran away because of religious pressure concerning his sexual orientation. But really the film is a lot more general than that, as the story could work with a number of character personality issues. Now another device is that the narrative jumps  in time from 1999, to 2000 and 2001, as evidenced by overheard radio broadcasts (dealing with Gore’s campaign and then with Bush’s first 100 days, somewhat before 9/11), on annual Memorial Day weekends (the first two years are covered quickly). In time, Mark will have met his tragic end, but not because of HIV. Rather, he is like the loggerhead turtles that he watches. He will be caught in a rip tide (not shown) near a tropical storm and drowned. This really has happened to various victims, including one active member in DC’s Adventuring (the gay outdoor group) in the mid 1990s.


Elizabethtown (2005, Paramount, dir. Cameron Crowe, PG-13, 120 min) is another coming home movie with a geographical focus—“my old Kentucky home.” (I guess John Sayles could call a movie like this “Bluegrass.”) The film is rather like another boutique arthouse movie but with full studio backing and budget.  Here Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is am appealing young man who has just been sacked from a shoe company when his Spasmodica keds flop and cause an almost billion dollar loss. Back in his nifty apartment he apparently contemplates suicide (I’m not sure he is as determined or close to it as some other critics think – because he plays his entire role with way too much confidence, athletic energy and charisma) but then gets a call from his home town that his father has passed away. He takes a red eye from the West Coast (he is pampered by flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst)) to Louisville and drives a rental car to Elizabethtown, where all of these homey characters interact in complicated and random ways. (A kid barfs on a guy who tries to hug him…) Now there are a lot of nifty sequences with Drew playing cell phone. There is some controversy over cremation, and Drew winds up in possession of an urn with ashes. There is a comic sequence at the post-funeral with a toy plane that sets he ballroom on fire, setting off the sprinkler system. Claire comes back, and lures him into a Howdy Doody clue-chase road trip home in the rent car, to Memphis, Wichita, the memorial in Oklahoma City, and finally a farmer’s market near Scottsbluff, NB. He drives alone, talking to himself, actually looking sharp, while Claire stays ahead of him. Drew sees the news stories of his colossal business failure, but he is ready to rebuild. Visually, the film is stunning with many outdoor on location shots “on the road”, apparently without requiring separate labor units. I would have preferred a full wide screen format.


The film actually reminds me of much of my own road life (alone, in soliloquy, like Drew in the final sequence), even that in rental cars, as I have been to all of the places in this film. In fact, I made my decision to write my DADT book when driving between Sterling CO and Scottsbluff, NB on a hot August Saturday in 1994, and I remember the national monument and bluffs and hiking trails through it well. I would have included a shot of a magpie bird in the Scottsbluff sequence.


As one of the other female characters went to comedy school: Another note on nomenclature: remember the 50s comedy sitcom “Life with Elizabeth”? It would always end with “Elizabeth: aren’t you ashamed?”  She would shake her head.


The Last Kiss (2006, Dreamworks, dir. Tony Goldwyn, apparently an adaptation or close remake of "L'ultimo bacio” (2001) dir. Gabriel Muccino, Thinkfilm; this film written by Paul Haggis and Gabriel Muccion, 115 min, R). This is a quick remake of a foreign film into the genre of snappy romantic coming of age comedy like other films on this page.  The film is set in Madison, WI, with very visible landmarks like the Capitol and University, even various bars near the center square. (Some was filmed in Quebec.) Zach Braff plays the architect Michael. He has the boyish innocence of his own Garden State and of Scrubbs, even if his chin looks a little thick. He talks like Zach, always logically. (The Feb. 2006 issue of Giant Mag offered successive photos of Zach being pried open.) He has gotten Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) pregnant and is truly in love with her, he says, or is he, because the doesn’t want to settle down yet. He sees other marriages and relationships around him flailing (like his coworker Chris – Casey Affleck). He resists temptation valiantly but gives in to the body-pawing Kim (Rachel Bilson). Then he must “tell the truth” (according to Jenna’s father, Tom Wilkinson, who has his own problems “in the bedroom”) and never give up on getting her back. So he lays outside her house until….


A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006, First Look/Belladonna, dir. Wr. Dito Montiel, 98 min, R) is another coming-of-age film with a family loyalty and return issue, with some rough parallels to “Garden State” as well as to “One True Thing.” Dito (Robert Downey. Jr.) is a forty-year old writer who has just made the book signing parties with his autobiographical novel of that name, when he gets a low-keyed call from his mother (Dianne Wiest) that his father is will, won’t go to the hospital, and that Dito should come home to Astoria, Queens, from LA to look after his father, with whom his relationship is strained in complex ways. Dito does come home, and the movie moves back and forth between today and 1986 when Dito is a street-smart but verbal kid played by Shia La Beouf (now 20, and a young actor who has made it out of disadvantage by acting, which seems to mature a lot of kids very quickly). He is involved in neighborhood wars and dogwalking for a “gay” pimp. When the feud heats up, his friend Antonio (Channing Tatum) has defended him, and wound up in prison for a shooting. Dito’s brother has committed suicide by laying down on a subway track in front of a train – something I had never seen on film before. Dito’s dad (Chazz Palmenteri) has a seizure at a moment of family crisis, and young Dito leaves and abandons the family. When he returns in present day, he really faces a moral crisis. The present day father (Eric Roberts) will have nothing to do with Dito since Dito had abandoned any sense of filial responsibility in order to succeed in life on his own terms. The mother claims that the father's health had deteriorated steadily from the time that Dito left home, because Dito was so important to him as a male legacy, and because he couldn't let go of his "favorite son." Dito apparently has written about his family without “permission” (lawyers could debate the significance of this, since Dito is first of all writing about himself), and we are not sure if the 20-year-flashbacks are intended to be “true history” or are they the inventions of Dito’s novel, with plenty of artistic license. (There are some problems of clarity in the flashbacks, and the “fiction” issue could explain that.) The girl friend involved in the old inter-family feud (Rosario Dawson) challenges him to be a “man” by looking after his parents despite the family strains. (The film does not specify whether Dito has his own wife and family in L.A., to "justify" his situation "morally", but it leaves the impression that he probably doesn't.) But the family loyalty seems tied to ideas of machismo stereotypically associated with big Italian-American families: that for a man, your domain is your biological legacy. Let us face the fact, in our political debate, that it is the expectation of family loyalty that drives family values and the heterosexual world as we know it. Parents like Dito’s believe that their children owe back the emotional loyalty that was given them, and pretty much unconditionally. Politically, the fight turns into whether people will be allowed to go their own ways without growing into and returning that loyalty first, and we ought to face that in our debates.


Downey looks a bit old in the role, and I think Zach Braff himself would have made a better match as a grown Shia, who is about grown himself, though. Downey executes the predicament he is in well, however. It’s possible to imagine Gregory Smith as a younger Dito, as the character’s personality somewhat remembles Ephram on Everwood.


I hope this film is in the Oscar race this year. It could be in the lineup for Best Picture; I’m not kidding. (I don’t know the budget, but it would seem to be well under $5 million.) It deals with sensitive family loyalty issues and may be introducing us to the coming political debate on filial responsibility. The movie seems an appropriate choice on any November 1, "All Saints' Day" (or "Hallowmas") when that majestic hymn (music by Ralph Vaughn Williams) "For All the Saints" with its common march time and descending blocked melody is sung the following Sunday in practucally every Christian church. 


Music Within (2007, MGM / Articulus / Quorum, dir. Steven Sawalich, (book “Windmills” by Richard Pimentel, 93 min, R). Times have changed, I heard a high school administrator say. As late as the 1970s, restaurant or public accommodations owners could ask obviously disabled people to leave the premises and have them arrested if they didn’t leave because of “ugly laws”, at least in Oregon. The movie credits Richard Pimentel, played passionately by Ron Livingston, for changing attitudes and getting the Americans for Disabilities Act passed in 1991. Actually, it took a lot more people than that, but his biography certainly walks us through all the moral issues, how we think about disability, discrimination, people who are different for any reason, and what all our “moral” rationalizations (maybe somehow related to “karma”) used to be.


Richard was born to a mentally ill mother who had many miscarriages, and spent some time in orphanages. Nevertheless, his mother took him back and tried to bond with him with ballroom lessons. He worked in his Chinese father’s restaurant beheading chickens, and one day, in English class, gives a speech on how most restaurant chicken is killed by hand. He developed a talent for debate and public speaking, but then a college administrator (himself mentally ill and having a bad day and needing his lithium, we later learn) admonishes him (when he applies for a scholarship) saying that he has nothing to say. Go out and get a real life, he says. He joins the Army to get the GI bill, and is nearly deafened by an explosion in Vietnam (that sequence, recalling “Rescue Dawn”, was shot in the Philippines). He has severe tinnitus, and the Dolby digital soundtrack recreates what this is like well. It’s hard to take. Now, is told he will never be employable because of his own deafness, and is at first refused admission to college, despite the fact that he was injured in action in Vietnam. He overcomes the prejudices. He learns to read lips, since he can’t hear consonants. He meets another slightly disabled veteran, and then accidentally meets a brilliant man with cerebral palsy Art Honeyman (Martin Sheen, whose performance could get a nod for best supporting actor this year). After they are thrown out of a restaurant and arrested under an “ugly law,” Richard develops his passion. Now, is told he will never be employable because of his own deafness, and is at first refused admission to college, despite the fact that he was injured in action in Vietnam. But he works his way up in the world, placing disabled people and eventually working for the government doing that, traveling and speaking all over the world. The film presents him as instrumental in promoting the ADA during the first Bush presidency.  Honeyman will help him edit his book.


Toward the end, Pimentel, on a radio talk show, tries to related disabilities with other controversial needs, such as those of people with AIDS, and gets cut off when he calls the current administration (then the Reagan Administration) “fascist.”  The question as to whether smaller businesses should be financially “burdened” with compliance of providing ADA access is at least touched on.


The “music” in the film is conspicuous (lots of 70s rock), but its use in the title of the film is symbolic.     


Related reviews: Latter Days;  A Home at the End of the World;  About Schmidt; Silver City ; Napoleon Dynamite  Tully   Boogie Nights  A Star Is Born   One True Thing  In the Land of Women     Book: Opposing Viewpoints: Teenage Sexuality


Return to doaskdotell movies

Return to doaskdotell home page


Email me at