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USA 1986
Directed by
Randa Haines
119 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Children Of A Lesser God

Whilst of course one wants to commend Children of a Lesser God, based on a stage play by Mark Medoff  who co-wrote the screenplay, for its significance in bringing the world of deafness (now hearing impairment) to mainstream attention, as a film it is heavy-handed affair sagging under the weight of 1980s production values.

The core of the film, which is set in an institution for the blind is a romance between a young deaf woman, Sarah (Marlee Matlin, in real life hearing impaired), and an unconventional teacher, James (William Hurt). 

Probably the first thing that jars is that Matlin is typically pretty (in the Sean Young/Debra Winger style of the time), and not only does this reduce the credibility of the device of making her a janitor seem but it throws into doubt James's purportedly altruistic motives. Accept that as a Hollywood convention. however, and one still has to face the biggest non-sequitur and that is that throughout the movie, James verbalizes all the sign language, saying aloud what he is signing and "reading" aloud what is signed to him. Clearly this is done to make the film palatable to a mainstream audience who one would not reasonably expect to sit through silence or sub-titles but it undermines the film’s impact in presenting the experience of being deaf and thereby Sarah's point-of-view, which accounts for a major part of the narrative's motivation.

Director Randa Haines has largely worked in television and her execution is formulaic with no real attempts to come to terms with the unusual specifics of the romance, relying instead on hackneyed sentiment to carry the day. It worked for Matlin who won the Best Actress Oscar and has had a successful career in film and television ever since but whilst Hurt does a convincing job in a role that must have required a lot of prepping (and he formed a relationship with Matlin in real life), in terms of dramatic engagement the film leaves one largely on autopilot and is only likely to appeal to those with a vested interest.




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