As the title character, terrific up-and-comer James McAvoy ("Bright Young Things," "Wimbledon") is a winningly surly charmer. Rory has an advanced form of muscular dystrophy and can move only two fingers, but he can talk--and holds nothing back. The newest patient at the sedate Carrigmore Home for the Disabled, he's a disruptive force, all spiked hair and snarling outbursts. He finds an ally in the seemingly meek Michael (an impressive film debut by Steven Robertson), who's spent his entire life within Carrigmore's hushed corridors. Beyond the sheer novelty of Rory's wheelchair-bound swagger, Michael, whose cerebral palsy renders his speech all but impenetrable, finds someone who understands him. Having known a boy with a similar speech problem, Rory effortlessly interprets Michael's words, discovering a sly sense of humor.
When Rory turns their supervised day of charity collection into a pub crawl through Dublin, Michael experiences life outside the gates for the first time. No longer willing to accept his eventless existence, he puts his sharp legal mind to work and successfully applies for personal assistance funds that will allow the two of them to live on their own. After O'Donnell indulges in that recently popular movie cliché, the montage of wacky interviewees, the boys hire the fetching Siobhan (Romola Garai) as their assistant. They both fall for her, but clear-eyed Rory has more realistic expectations than Michael.
Although Jeffrey Caine's script--based on a story by Christian O'Reilly, who worked at Dublin's Centre for Independent Living--follows a familiar trajectory, its bracing character detail transcends disease-of-the-week sentimentality, if at times just barely. The well-researched film doesn't shy away from the daily physical challenges Rory and Michael face, and the two leads bring a rigorous vitality to the characters. Brenda Fricker, Tom Hickey and Gerard McSorley provide well-etched support. Starring James McAvoy, Steven Robertson, Romola Garai, Brenda Fricker, Tom Hickey and Gerard McSorley. Directed by Damien O'Donnell. Written by Jeffrey Caine. Produced by James Flynn and Juanita Wilson. A Focus release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 104 min