It’s not often I feel compelled to quote other reviewers in regards to a particular film, but I feel compelled here. Fellow 1001 blogger Siochembio remarked in her review of Ordinary People that the film basically transcended its “Lifetime Movie of the Week” premise to become something much more than that. It was this remark that I had in mind while I was watching Children of a Lesser God, a film that feels very much like a Lifetime movie and seemingly does nothing to transcend this. It wasn’t even that it tried and failed to do so; it pretty much didn’t even try. It kept to its premise and milked it for close to two hours, and then called it a day.
The premise, I’ll say, is at least a decent one, if not a recipe for maudlin melodrama. William Hurt is a teacher of deaf kids, who transfers to a small-town school for the hearing impaired where he sets to work trying to teach the kids not just to speak in signing, but to speak with their regular voices as well. It’s there that he runs into Sarah Norman (played vivaciously by Marlee Matlin), a former student who never moved on from the school and remains there as a janitor. Inexorably, the two find themselves drawn toward each other, and they try and make their burgeoning relationship work despite the difficulties of her refusing to speak. So, I guess I should start this off by mentioning Matlin’s performance, which was as wholly realized as a character can get. Matlin embodies Sarah completely, and it is in the moments of emotional turmoil, where she’s signing so ferociously that Hurt’s character can barely take it, that her true spirit shines. It’s easy to see how Matlin became the first deaf recipient of an Academy Award for this. Now, onto the rest of the film. The rest of the film is basically nothing but Hurt and Matlin dealing with relationship troubles and trying to work them out, and then they have another big argument, and then they reconcile, and then the film ends. If that doesn’t sound very entertaining or worthwhile to you, I don’t blame you, hence why I called this a Lifetime Movie of the Week, because that’s basically all it is. This is the kind of film Douglas Sirk would’ve made if he were making films in the late 1980s, Matlin’s oversized hairdo included.
For the first film directed by a woman to be nominated for Best Picture, I was pretty underwhelmed with this one. Just like Sirk’s melodramas of the 50s, it was entirely too one-note, and that one note kept getting pounded and pounded over and over until the film finally had enough and left it there to die in peace. I really don’t know why this got the big nomination; if it weren’t for the “deaf person” angle, this would be a run-of-the-mill melodrama with absolutely nothing to show for it. I can’t fault it for being bad, because it’s not; it just wasn’t worth watching two whole hours of the same thing. It was tiring, and a two hour film that’s tiring isn’t exactly the best sell to a potential audience. That’s unfortunately the only thing left to say about this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10