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TitleFreak City (1999)
Alternative/Original Title
DisabilityGeneral Multiple Sclerosis Blind Deaf Dysphasia
GenreHospital drama
DirectorLynne Littman
CastSamantha Mathis Jonathan Silverman Marlee Matlin Natalie Cole Peter Sarsgaard Estelle Parsons
NotesA young woman, Samantha Mathis, has multiple sclerosis and is looked after by her grandmother. But then her grandmother dies and she is forced to go into a care facility. Among the 'mixed bag' of residents is Jonathan Silverman playing a blind person, Marlee Matlin as someone both deaf and with slight mental retardation and Natalie Cole is a woman who has been in an accident and now has severe mental difficulties. A character, Eleanor, has dysphasia. Yvonne writes: Freak city. Synopsis Ruth is in her early 20s, has MS and is a wheelchair user. After the sudden death of her grandmother, she is sent to live in a care centre by her uncaring Aunt. The decision is against Ruth's wishes but it appears that she handed over her power of attorney when 18 years old. She finds herself powerless to change her circumstances and is rebellious and unpleasant to staff and patients alike including her roommate, Cassandra who describes herself as "mentally slow". Cassandra is a happy, friendly and endearing person, eager to help and Ruth initially wants nothing to do with her. Their relationship does grow however. The institute's culture includes a social separation of "gimps" (physically impaired) and "goons" (mentally impaired) who eat separately and socialise separately. Ruth starts to make alliances with certain patients. Cal, is a bright, attractive young man with quadriplegia who talks to her about Dante, relating his fictional journey to their experience of being in the institution. He expects to go to university shortly. There is Lenny, who is blind and Ruth feels he is a fellow rebel because he smokes and is cynical about the institution and its rules. She soon finds that he is also very overpowered by his overprotective and interfering mother, who manages the kitchens in the home. The other member to join their group is Eleanor, she was a famous jazz singer before a car accident left her with dysphasia and some mental difficulties. Ruth applies for legal aid and gets a lawyer who will help her get back her power of attorney but she is half hearted about carrying through the lawyers requests. She is also shown to be suffering from increasing weakness as the film progresses. On one night she visits Cal in his room and they start to kiss and fantasise together but he turns her away. Ruth gets to go out to a bar with her group of friends and they get very drunk, dance, tell jokes and the evening ends with Eleanor singing a beautiful song. On leaving the bar, Ruth falls from her chair and cannot get up without help. She is very angry and spits out hostility to her companions. Cassandra is especially hurt because Ruth refers to her voluntary work in the kitchen as "monkey work". Cassandra had previously told Ruth that Cal killed his girlfriend whilst drunk driving (presumably the accident that caused his disability) When she returns from the bar, Ruth wakes Cal up to ask about his girlfriend, who he is still very upset about. Eleanor spends the night with Lenny. The following days brings many problems, Cassandra is not happy about her work now and has a tantrum in the kitchen. The home, therefore decide to move her from sharing with Ruth who is deemed a bad influence on her. Despite efforts from Ruth, Cassandra and the nurses to keep Lenny's mother at bay, she still discovers Lenny and Eleanor in bed and is very shocked. She decides that he should move home with her. Cal is found to have committed suicide on finding that he has not been granted funding for a carer at University. Ruth is plunged into grief and Eleanor comforts her. Ruth finds out that Lenny is packing to leave. Whilst his mother is expecting him to move home with her, in fact, he plans to go to accommodation for the blind that he has been offered. He asks Ruth to go with him, she declines but helps him to leave. The film finishes with Ruth, now more accepting of the institution as her home, showing compassion for another patient who she has previously avoided. Comments. This is a difficult film to review. The actors did well and the institute was realistic. I was pleased to see Marlee Matlin rising to the challenge of playing a hearing role. However, I was left with a sense of "what was the point" after watching the film. It seemed to visit a few days in the lives of . . . . And that was it. My feeling was that it was not enough. There are certain concerns that I have about this film. Firstly (I may be being nanve) young, wheelchair users who do not need major nursing care are not normally accommodated in such institutions. There is a strong movement in the UK and I'm sure in the US also, towards supporting independent living. So I can't see that a woman like Ruth would be housed there. This was true of other inmates also. The movie took a number of long shots of various people with differing disabilities whilst they looked into camera. What was that supposed to convey? My worry was that it seemed to have a voyeuristic feel to it. Another concern is about Marlee Matlin's role of Cassandra. I want to fully support her in playing hearing roles. However she has the voice characteristics of a deaf person and in playing a mentally impaired person, I have a concern that this may reinforce a previously prevalent concept that deaf people are intellectually impaired. Lastly the same old problem, I don't think the main roles were played by disabled actors, why not?

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