Two young men are our focus: Michael (a very good Steven Robertson) is quiet, tolerant and has cerebral palsy, while Rory (an equally good James McAvoy) is more combative, energetic and has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which dramatically shortens his life expectancy. The two meet at a dreary residential care home, where a noisy, rebellious Rory takes it upon himself to challenge Michael’s passive take on life. Soon – and for reasons difficult to believe – both are living together independently under the caring eye of their friend Siobhán (Romola Garai), on whom Michael has a complicating, unrequited crush. Rory struggles to boost Michael’s confidence and career prospects, all the while ignoring his own problems and impending poor health.
O’Donnell admirably tries to avoid the trap of numerous screen portraits of disabled people as latent superheroes or suppressed angels, yet the film’s failure is in the plotting. Too often, I wanted to scream foul as the story took a convenient swing one way or the other, expecting our emotions to lurch with it and its clumsily declared, hands-in-the-air celebration of what O’Donnell and crew perceive as the independent spirit. Full marks for intent; barely a pass for execution.