The movie begins in a courtroom. We later learn the parents are in court to determine who will get custody of Adam. Through flashbacks we learn what led to the dispute. After an introduction to the world Adam and his mother live in--a performance of "The Wizard of Oz" at their school, with parents applauding differently than those of us who hear would--Adam has an accident while playing outside and ends up in the emergency room. The doctor informs Dan that Adam might be a candidate for a cochlear implant, which would give him some hearing.
Laura resists the idea of letting Adam hear. She does not consider herself disabled, and unlike Adam, she has no memory of actually hearing. Laura and her parents--also deaf--accept the way they are and have no desire to change, and they don't like the idea of Adam being alienated from them. They don't even like it when he starts speaking instead of using sign language like they do.
Reluctantly, Laura goes along with the idea of investigating the procedure for Adam. But she never really accepts the idea, and the dispute eventually threatens the couple's future together.
I had a hard time understanding what was going on. Marlee Matlin cannot talk like people who can hear, and yet her words are spoken perfectly. I later realized, when her character was signing but not talking as the couple ate with hearing friends, that we were hearing an "interpreter for the hearing." I suppose that was better than having subtitles, which I prefer not to have to read. But the actress who speaks Laura's words has the stiffness characteristic of celebrities or experts playing themselves, at least at first. The interpreters for Noah Valencia (Adam), and Ed Waterstreet and Phyllis Frelich (Laura's parents), do a much better job.
Matlin herself does a fine job. I have to evaluate her on her facial expressions, and she has such a pretty face to look at anyway. Noah speaks a couple of times and does a very good job; after researching the movie I found he is actually deaf, as are Waterstreet and Frelich, who also do well. Waterstreet particularly excels in communicating the pain Laura's father feels about the prejudice the hearing world seems to feel toward his culture, the pain of feeling like this might hurt his relationship with Adam if Adam can hear.
Jeff Daniels also does a good job, and so do the actors playing the lawyers for both sides, and the judge. There is a hearing-impaired psychologist whose voice we actually hear; she talks like Matlin does but enunciates quite well. Notice I said hearing-impaired: when the term "deaf" is used in this movie, it refers to those who have no hearing at all.
The movie teaches a lot about how the deaf regard their culture, a lot I didn't know. I would have assumed people would want to improve their situation if they could. But this movie presents the point of view that the deaf don't want to be "cured." They have ways of compensating for what they can't find out in the ways that we who hear can. They can do anything, this movie tells us. I don't know that I would agree, but I certainly have a better understanding now.
The fact that interpreters rather than subtitles were used means a person would not have to know how to read to watch this movie. So that brings up this point: is it appropriate for kids? There's nothing offensive about it, though the themes and discussions are a little intense. Perhaps older children can watch it. Kids Adam's age could probably watch it.