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7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Character stage piece takes the big screen with addition of a broken Aesop, 8 November 2009

So, this movie has been hailed, glorified, and carried to incredible heights. But in the end what is it really? Many of the ways in which it has been made to work for a hearing audience on the screen do not work. The fairly academic camera work keeps the signing obfuscated, and scenes that are in ASL are hard to follow as a result even for someone who is relatively fluent. The voice interpretation of Matlin's dialogue, under the excuse that Hurt's character "likes the sound of his voice", turns her more and more into a weird distant object as the film goes on. Matlin does shine in the few scenes where her signing is not partially hidden from view. But nonetheless, most of the movie, when this is a love story, is only showed from a single point of view, that of the man. As Ebert said, "If a story is about the battle of two people over the common ground on which they will communicate, it's not fair to make the whole movie on the terms of only one of them."

The idea that an oralist teacher who uses methods that have been imposed in many deaf schools for decades would be presented as "revolutionary" is fairly insulting in itself. His character becomes weakened as a credible teacher as the movie goes on. Drawing comedy from a deaf accent is, quite honestly, rather low. And his attitude towards the male students of his class is pretty symptomatic of how he seems to act with women: as an entitled man. A party scene involving a number of deaf people including a few academics meeting together leaves him seemingly isolated, in a way that's fairly inconsistent with his credentials: I have seen interpreters spontaneously switch to asl between each other even when they weren't aware of a deaf person being in the area, and yet somehow he feels like a fish out of the water in an environment his education should have made him perfectly used to. As a lover, he seems like a typical dogged nice guy, including his tendency to act possessively afterwards. And yet the movie is, indeed, only really seen through him, as everything his lover says is filtered through his voice.

The scenes involving the other deaf kids are, in general, wallbangers. The broken symbolism fails, the dance scene, the pool scene, even the initial sleep scene which is supposed to carry some of it - all these scenes that try to hint at the isolation of the deaf main character are broken metaphors, at best: many hearing people I know do dance on the bass beats that deaf people feel (instead of squirming like copulating chihuahuas), and going to take an evening dive for a hearing person is rarely an excuse to make a deep statement on the isolation of deafness (no, seriously, when I go swim, I go swim)...

It also fails at carrying the end of the play, instead making it a story of a deaf woman who submits to a strong man. Even though the original play ended with a more equal ground, where both have to accept each other as they are, and where he has to finally recognize her real voice is the movement of her hands, not the vibrations in her throat.

And for all the breakthrough that it may have seemed to be, Marlee Matlin remains Hollywood's token deaf woman to this day.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Fairly mediocre melodrama, apparently making a lot of its hype hinge on passing itself off as some sort of "first" in deaf cinema, although I am unsure a first what..., 7 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

So I went to the Philadelphia-ish matinée last summer. It was not quite crowded but still. We had had some hyping due to knowing a person who was somehow involved with the production - we still have no idea how all told considering who this is. So yeah. I'm deaf, and admittedly young, which means I'm not impressed by a movie like Children of a Lesser God, where the appeal of a deaf actress having a main role quickly wore off as the dreadful and abusive relationship unfolded on screen, always presenting everything from the eyes of the hearing partner.

This movie at least has the advantage of being made by a deaf cineast, although it is far from the first full feature film to be so even after the silent film era ended, and even compared to what is a "love it or hate it" "deafploitation" b-movie/horror piece like Deafula, it leaves heavily to be desired.

The signing is at times disjointed, not necessarily sloppy so much as badly shot. Making the subtitles a relatively good thing even for deaf people. The soundtrack feels a bit like a gimmick - dreams in speech, absolute silence except for a musical soundtrack which mostly seems an idea to make things falsely immersing while not too jarring for hearing viewers. At the same time it perpetuates the idea that deafness is a world of absolute silence, when it tends to be far from it: sound is vibration after all, and hearing is a specialized form of touch, and a lot of what can't be heard can be felt.

On the plot, the characters are fairly uninteresting. It's mostly the story of a rather boring deaf man whose wedding was recently called off because his stepdaughter died in a moment of inattention. A lot of time is spent dwelling on it, and in the end, rather the being an interesting piece of character development, it seems simply forced, artificial. It gets pounded on us with the subtlety of an elephant stampede in a porcelain store. His former relationship is shown as relatively shallow, and his new relationship doesn't seem much less so. The thief subplot seems at best forced, at worst stupid headline pilfering. It's integrated poorly in the overall plot and seems to be an excuse to do some broken "character growth". Which, let's be fair, still leaves the characters pretty flat and lifeless.

The proselytizing girlfriend supblot also become blatantly obvious from the moment they first show a church, I'll nonetheless pretend it's a spoiler. He's a man fairly uninterested in religion, but it ends up becoming a big part of his healing process. It's vaguely implied that he converts, and quite honestly, this leaves me relatively cold. The intense proselytizing that is regularly done on the deaf community is something I've known many deaf people who are intensively uncomfortable with it, and it simply makes me queasy to see it being embraced so readily. No surprises in this movie, every little bit of plot is, basically, guessable from the first minute it is introduced: the girl is dead, the new woman will become his wife, the other elitist deaf people viewed later (basically a strawman most of the time) will get told, and he will convert. If you hoped for an artistically interesting or challenging plot, go elsewhere. There's more to deaf cinema than this tasteless stew.