My Left Foot (1989)
NYT Critics' Pick This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.
LEAD: Born in 1932 with cerebral palsy, the ninth of the 22 children his parents would eventually have (13 survived), Christy Brown grew up as an archetypal member of Dublin's working class - painfully poor, often deprived of essentials, yet also miraculously resiliant.
Born in 1932 with cerebral palsy, the ninth of the 22 children his parents would eventually have (13 survived), Christy Brown grew up as an archetypal member of Dublin's working class - painfully poor, often deprived of essentials, yet also miraculously resiliant.
Christy's body was both twisted and paralyzed. He was unable to communicate through recognizable speech. With his lips pulled over to one side, his eyes wobbling upward in their sockets, he spoke in a series of gutteral syllables that would be translated by his mother.
Because he had the use of only his left foot, he was able to get around with difficulty, sometimes in a homemade wooden pramlike vehicle, pulled by his pals, and later in a wheel chair. People who had no idea they were being cruel referred to him within his hearing as an ''idiot'' and a ''half-wit.''
Through the uninhibited, unself-conscious love of his family, and the patience of his doctors, Christy learned how to be understood when he talked and to express himself first as a painter and then as a writer. His mind was fertile, restless, questing and, it seems, surprisingly romantic.
With the more than ordinarily prehensile toes of his left foot, he could hold a paint brush, turn door knobs, type stories, play records, do almost everything, in fact, except cut his throat with a straight razor (tried once in a low moment).
''My Left Foot'' is an intelligent, beautifully acted adaptation of Christy Brown's first book, published in 1955, the initial chapter in a series of semi-autobiographical works in which he recalled his own most particular coming of age. The film will be shown at the New York Film Festival today at 9 P.M. and tomorrow at 2 P.M.
''My Left Foot'' is a very successful example of the sort of triumph-over-adversity screen literature that Americans have tended to sentimentalize and prettify in such movies as ''The Other Side of the Mountain'' and ''The Mask.'' ''My Left Foot,'' shot in Ireland with Irish and English talent, may not be entirely unsentimental, but its emotions are expressed within a social context that gives them a tough texture.
''My Left Foot'' might have been even better if it had been even more caustic. That, however, would have been a different movie from the one that Jim Sheridan has directed from a screenplay written by him and Shane Connaughton, with the exemplary Daniel Day Lewis playing the adult Christy Brown and Hugh O'Conor playing Christy as a boy.
It's never easy judging the work of actors in such singular and grotesque circumstances. Technical facility can go a long way toward the creation of what appears to be a performance. Thus it takes a while for the full measure of Mr. Day Lewis's work in ''My Left Foot'' to be appreciated.
At first he is so explicitly deformed that it seems rude to stare at him, which might be just the sort of reaction that Christy would use to gain an advantage over a stranger. He is an exceptionally complicated man. He has long since moved beyond the longings, expressed by the progtagonists in ''The Mask'' and ''Elephant Man,'' to be like other people.
Christy knows that he will always be different, but that doesn't prevent him from attempting to realize himself as completely as other men. How he does this, and at what cost, provides ''My Left Foot'' with its narrative shape. The film is a series of flashbacks from a gala benefit at which Christy is being honored and where he meets the young woman he will eventually marry.
Though he is not on screen as long as Mr. Day Lewis, Mr. Conor is equally good as the young Christy, a furious intelligence lurking inside a body that is all twitches and spasms, whose muscles are clenched as tightly as his emotions.
The fine supporting cast is headed by Brenda Fricker and Ray McAnally as Christy's parents, Ruth McCabe as the young woman Christy falls in love with, and Fiona Shaw as the doctor who is largely responsible for the education of the older Christy.
Though ''My Left Foot'' is blunt and tough in its presentation of Christy's handicaps, it avoids any direct criticism of the handicapped world into which he is born, one in which his mother spends most of her time being pregnant, in which poverty is as likely to make the spirit ugly as beautiful and in which the church always has the last word.
There is one funny-terrible scene in which a priest lectures the young, almost completely immobilized Christy on the evils of the flesh and the possibility of eternal damnation after the boy has been found with a dirty magazine.
Most of the time, though, ''My Left Foot'' is polite, nonjudgmental. The film ends with Christy's marriage in 1972. It does not mention that he choked to death while having dinner in 1981. He was 49 years old. ON BEING DIFFERENT - MY LEFT FOOT, directed by Jim Sheridan; written by Mr. Sheridan and Shane Connaughton, based on the book by Christy Brown; director of photography, Jack Conroy; edited by J. Patrick Duffner; music by Elmer Bernstein; art director, Austen Spriggs; produced by Noel Pearson; released by Miramax Films. At Alice Tully Hall, as part of the 27th New York Film Festival. Running time: 103 minutes. This film has no rating. Christy Brown...Daniel Day Lewis Mr. Brown...Ray McAnally Mrs. Brown...Brenda Fricker Young Christy Brown...Hugh O'Conor Dr. Eileen Cole...Fiona Shaw Mary...Ruth McCabe Peter...Adrian Dunbar Benny...Eanna MacLiam Lord Castlewelland...Cyril Cusack
September 23, 1989
FILM FESTIVAL: IN THE U.S., A RETURN TO THE 60'S; IN IRELAND, A TRIUMPH OF WILL; A Particular Coming Of Age
By VINCENT CANBY
Published: September 23, 1989