Children of a Lesser God Reviews
The story concerns a teacher, James Leeds (William Hurt), who is a new addition to the faculty at Kittredge School for the Deaf. He is an idealistic person with unconventional teaching methods who quickly earns the trust and admiration of his students. However an employee, Sarah (Marlee Matlin), and also a former student, proves more of a challenge. Despite her resistance to him trying to help, a romance blossoms between the two and sets the stage for a clash of wills.
Aside from the outstanding performances (including a small, but affecting turn by Piper Laurie as Sarah's mother), one thing I thought was really well-done was the intimate moments of conflict between James and Sarah after the point in the story where they fall in love. Those dialogue exchanges were key to what I felt was the central struggle in the film. Nominally, it was about a man in love trying to get through to a deaf woman, but it can also be generalized to any relationship where communication can be difficult. Men and women often enter a relationship hoping that the other person will meet them on their own terms, but the reality is that it's best if they meet each other halfway. This is something I thought was beautifully explored in the film. I also enjoyed the many scenes where James interacts with his students, as these provided some comic relief.
Still, not everything was so admirable. For one, I thought that the film took a rather patriarchal attitude towards women. Marlee Matlin, strong as her performance may have been, is still playing a strong-willed woman who finds herself in being with a man, just shy of being domesticated. At one point during the obligatory separation part of any romantic drama, she moves back in with her mother and gets a job, but doesn't find fulfillment in it. I understand that this film was made close to 30 years ago (and the play it was based on) so it's a product of its time, but things like that have a detrimental effect on how well a film ages. And with respect to its attitudes towards women, this film has not aged well in my opinion. They also took a rather pedestrian and cliche approach to the romantic elements of the story.
Overall, this was a well-acted and (seemingly) well-meaning look at love in a unique relationship/circumstance. Some of the music was a little too on-the-nose, but generally was fitting. I also enjoyed the 80's pop songs they included in the soundtrack. What the film does best is explore the difficulties inherent in a relationship between a hearing and deaf person, which can be generalized to the difficulty in any relationship. Still, it's retrograde (at least, now) attitude towards women makes it a little lesser of a film than it could have been.
The theme of deafness isn't actually dealt with in films much, and it took me seeing Children of a Lesser God to actually realise that. I was more than glad to actually see a film that touched upon such a theme because any film that explores concepts about people different than me or than the usual cinematic archetypes is something I want to check out. And the story of a hearing speech teacher and a deaf custodian entering a relationship together and learning from each other's beliefs sounded like an interesting way to explore the subject.
And it proved to be just that because as well as exploring the concept of deaf people, Children of a Lesser God took an interesting look into the relationship between a deaf woman refusing to speak and a teacher at a school for the deaf. It soon evolves into a complicated romantic drama which is so well written that it distracts viewers from its thin plot. The characters are so thoughtfully created and the dialogue is so strong that it makes Children of a Lesser God a very intelligent film. There is a lot of thought in Mark Medoff's film adaptation of his own play combined with the writing talents of Hesper Anderson, and they ensure that director Randa Haines is supplied a lot of material to work with as the director of this feature. She ensures that the material is handled appropriately and that it is visually appealing as well since the cinematography in the film is very nice and constantly captures the positive visual aspects of the settings and sets a certain kind of atmosphere. Children of a Lesser God does have good style to it, and director Randa Haines treats it well. Although there is a certain point where it gets faulty.
The problem I found with Children of a Lesser God was although the film began with a suggestion that one of its key themes would be James Leeds teaching at a school for the deaf, but it later lost touch with that and became way too focused on the relationship between him and Sarah Norman which left the concept of the school for the deaf forgotten and essentially an expendable subplot that was written out of the film halfway through. So it's written in there but it isn't explored well enough which is a little disappointing.
And the film's ending is very abrupt. It feels like the end of a soap opera episode because everything is closed with a sudden resolution which really isn't enough to justify all the drama that the characters have faced. There has been a lot of emotional trouble for the characters, and to resolve it with a 5 second realisation of love between the two and a hug just isn't enough. It how characters solved problems on 1980's family sitcoms, but a genuine drama film of the calibre that Children of a Lesser God is of deserves more. Considering that the film has had a consistently slow pace for the course of its 114 minute running time, for it to suddenly resolve everything within a very brief time period is just not what the rest of the film has been building up to. Children of a Lesser God's sudden ending drags it down and makes it less of an experience than it was building up to, so the ending is the weakest moment in Children of a Lesser God.
The musical score was also a little overwhelming at times, particularly in the film's ending scene. While the music is ok for the first half of the movie, in the second half it screeches fairly loudly and repetitively which damages the enjoyment of the scene if not the ears of the hearing viewers watching the film.
But still, Children of a Lesser God was a good film with a great cast.
William Hurt's lead performance is a challenging role which he completely nails, and it is very impressive. As he has to constantly speak in sign language as well as out loud, he has a lot of things to do. Although it is clear that he is speaking so that audiences are able to understand him, the way he does it is magnificent. William Hurt speaks with excellent sign language which he ties into the words he projects very well. His physical acting and his vocal acting is excellent and he ties it clearly into his facial gestures so that he is easy to understand from every perspective. William Hurt does everything so that his performance gets across to viewers, and he does it so well that he makes Children of a Lesser God unforgettable for his performance among other things. There is not a second when William Hurt has any weakness in Children of a Lesser God, and it is a very impressive lead performance that he delivers.
It isn't often that a woman who doesn't speak in films is strong enough to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, but Marlee Matlin manages to do it so excellently in her debut performance that she gives one of the greatest silent performances I have ever seen on the cinematic screen. Although there is one brief moment where she makes some noise, she consistently gives a performance earning her the Academy Award for Best Actress without needing to speak, even better than when Holly Hunter did it for The Piano. Marlee Matlin's emotion is all in her physicality. You can tell by the way that she moves her arms about when speaking in sign language just what emotional state she is experiencing, and it is some incredibly powerful physical acting without going over the top. Marlee Matlin is a very impressive actress and her recognition and awards are very well deserved for her. It is hard to establish chemistry with someone else without speaking, but Marlee Matlin does it and the chemistry she shares with William Hurt is just terrific.
Piper Laurie's brief performance is also great. Within her very brief time on screen, she manages to create a tense chemistry with William Hurt and a sweet chemistry with Marlee Matlin, the latter of which has a true mother daughter feel to it. And she delivers her lines with the natural charisma of a caring parent without going at it on a melodramatic angle. Although Piper Laurie only has brief screen time, she makes Children of a Lesser God a more compelling feature and gives a gentle supporting performance.
So despite a few story flaws and an abrupt ending, Children of a Lesser God is a thought provoking romantic drama with intelligent characters and excellent acting.