I admit that I'm a big Amy Irving fan anyway, but this movie is one of the reasons why. Playing a young woman who lost her hearing at age 6 due a severe illness, she acts with just her eyes, subtle facial expressions, sign language, and body language. She inhabits this role from the inside out so convincingly that you forget you are watching someone who actually isn't deaf. Irving has great screen presence and a history of taking roles in character-driven films and turning them into something special. 'Voices' is one of these and thankfully it's available on a well produced DVD.
The basic story is that Rosemary Lemon (Irving) lives with her mother in an ordinary suburban house and works as a teacher in an inner-city school for the deaf. Her life seems comfortable enough, but outside her daily comfort zone she's shy and vulnerable. Drew Rothman (Michael Ontkean) plays something of a complete opposite as an outgoing young guy from the wrong side of the tracks. He leads a small band that plays for peanuts in cheap nightclubs and is struggling to move up to better opportunities. He's great at talking his way through difficult situations, which turns out to be critically important in the key dance-audition scene at the end of the film. At home (a run-down tenement) he lives with his father, grandfather, and younger brother; the father (Alex Rocco) runs a drycleaning shop but is also a small-time gambler always hoping to score big at the racetrack. And if it weren't for Drew's steadying influence on his whole family, his younger brother (Barry Miller) would have drifted into delinquency and petty crime.
Drew and Rosemary's lives take a sharp turn when a chance meeting brings them together. It's love at first sight (at least for him), and from then on he's devoted to her and especially to getting over the communication barrier faced by someone trapped in a world without sound. They get to know each other slowly with some ups and downs, but the big turning point, when Rosemary finally realizes he really does love her, comes about halfway along. When they're out alone in the evening he urges her to talk a bit to him (and to this point she hasn't spoken a word). She haltingly replies 'I don't - sound - good' (Irving nails a deaf-speech intonation too) and Drew comes back with 'I don't care how you sound. I just care about you.' Corny? yes, if that's the word you want to use. Effective? yes. Scenes like this go straight to the heart. Does absolutely everything we watch now have to be snarky or dystopian to be credible?
The cast is all good. Viveca Lindfors plays a nicely crafted role as Rosemary's overprotective mother who thinks Drew is likely just out for a fling. By contrast, Rosemary gets quite a different reception when she meets Drew's family in a long, chaotic, funny scene. They have no trouble at all accepting her -- they may be a dysfunctional mess, but they're essentially good-hearted and free of prejudice.
At important points in the plot, the soundtrack cuts out completely to make us feel Rosemary's silent world more directly. It's a simple trick, and it works. It's worth noting too that 'Voices' was made 7 years *before* 'Children of a Lesser God', the more famous film that launched Marlee Matlin's career.
Curses on the film studios for not using Amy Irving more! She's someone who can produce Oscar-level performances. I know the supposed reasons for her neglect -- the divorce from Steven Spielberg, the fact that Hollywood suddenly loses interest in actresses over the age of 40 -- but these are nothing more than disgraceful excuses. In the end, everybody loses.
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