Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 3, 1986 (USA)  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Anyone who's ever been impatient with movie characters who repeat back the other end of phone conversations -- a lazy and laughable device meant to help the audience -- may grow weary of Children of a Lesser God. Here, it's William Hurt who unnecessarily vocalizes all of Marlee Matlin's sign language, even in wrenching emotional moments involving hard truths, when the meaning of certain signs might easily be inferred in context. Not resorting to subtitles is in keeping with the talky quality of what originated as a stage play (authored by screenwriter Mark Medoff), but it asks too much suspension of disbelief. Shouldn't a film interested in recreating the experience of deafness be a little more silent? The story moves along in heavy-handed strides, as Hurt's gregarious speech therapist and Matlin's stubborn janitor launch into a hasty romance plagued by the predictable communication difficulties. One suspects that the film was nominated for Best Picture more on the basis of its courageous subject matter than its execution, which is fairly ordinary. What stands out are the intense performances, notably that of Matlin, whose real-life deafness adds an extra poignancy to her Oscar-winning portrayal. Both leads show a commitment to the material that's beyond the call of duty, which elevates Children of a Lesser God above its faults.