According to Oliver Wendell Holmes, most people go to their graves with their music inside them. Richard Pimentel (Livingston) decided to be the exception to that rule. A champion high-school debater in the 1960s, the scholarship-needy Pimentel joined the Army for college funds and ended up losing most of his hearing in Vietnam. Confronted with the everyday prejudice that disabled vets and civilians alike faced in the U.S., Pimentel used his knack for persuasive oratory to start a job-placement organization for the physically marginalized.
Starting first in his own community, Pimentel’s efforts eventually led to a state-sponsored training program that grew into a federal initiative. By the 1980s, government agencies were the biggest employer of the handicapped in the country, and in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, due largely to Pimentel.
This minor message-movie takes its triumph of the spirit in stride, thanks to modest performances by Livingston and Michael Sheen (whose turn as a cheeky wit with cerebral palsy is remarkable). But connect-the-dots biopic conceits make Pimentel’s personal journey almost superfluous compared with the more compelling story of how he changed a crippled culture of “ugly” laws (wherein the police had a right to arrest anyone who was physically “unsightly”) to one with required wheelchair accessibility. That transformation is nothing short of miraculous.