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Laramie Movie Scope:
Music Within

Amazing life, and funny too

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 28, 2007 -- “I was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and I've been pissed off ever since,” is a funny way to start any biographical film. That is how “Music Within” starts, and it keeps throwing out good one-liners the rest of the way. This based-on-fact film is pretty low on drama, but it is funny, has interesting characters, good performances and it is uplifting without being too sweet.

Based on the life story of a renowned advocate for the disabled, Richard Pimentel (ably played by Ron Livingston of “The Cooler”), this film starts at the beginning, with the umbilical cord quote, in off-screen narration. I know, off-screen narration is usually a sign of incompetent filmmaking, but it works well enough here, mainly because the narration is spiced up with some good one-liners. Richard's mother, played by Rebecca De Mornay (“Wedding Crashers”) goes crazy after having seven consecutive miscarriages and is consequently a very poor mother to Richard. She attempts suicide seven times each year, on the anniversary of each miscarriage. This is played for laughs. Richard's anger is caused in part by his not being able to get any kind of approval from his crazy mother.

In school, Richard learns he has the gift of gab and wins every speech tournament in sight, but when he applies for a scholarship at Portland State University in Oregon, he is rejected by debate coach Ben Padrow (Hector Elizondo of “Tortilla Soup”) because all of his opinions in all of his arguments are mere “bullshit.” Elizondo tells Richard to go live and “earn a point of view.” Richard does just that. He joins the army. In Vietnam, he loses his hearing due to a loud explosion.

Back in the states, Richard tries to use his military benefits to get into college. A clerk (played by character actor Clint Howard of “Halloween”) tells him he'll never be able to graduate from college or hold down a job because of his hearing loss and tinitis. Richard gets mad and tells the clerk he will do both of those things. Of course he does. In school, he finds a person whose speech he can actually hear, a man with cerebral palsy, Art Honeyman (Michael Sheen of “The Queen” in an amazing performance). Somehow, Honeyman's labored speech is just the right pitch for Richard to hear. He can understand Honeyman just fine, but most other people can't understand what Honeyman is saying. They make an unlikely pair. One night, while celebrating Honeyman's birthday at a pancake house, both men are thrown out for refusing to leave after the restaurant refuses to serve them. At the time, Richard had a high-paying advertising job. He has an epiphany and decides to start a new career, helping Vietnam veterans and others, like Honeyman, that people don't want to hire.

Richard quickly earns a reputation as a man who can get a job for anyone. He hires some of his old Vietnam vet buddies and soon he has a formidable employment agency. Eventualy, he is hired by the State of Oregon to form a new agency to help the disabled. His programs to educate employers about the disabled have influence far beyond the borders of Oregon. His efforts eventually helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The movie tries to build some drama using Richard's deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, Christine (Melissa George of “Down With Love”). It also tries to wring drama out of Richard's relationship with his mother, his friend Honeyman, his self-destructive, comical, rage-fueled friend Mike Stoltz (Yul Vazquez of “War of the Worlds”) and others, but it always comes up short. Humor is what saves the day. Speaking of humor, yes, that really is funnyman Leslie Nielson (“Wrongfully Accused”) playing a non-humorous role for a change. He plays a hearing aid researcher named Bill Austin. It was really strange to see Rebecca De Mornay playing a character well over 60 years of age. She's not that old.

This is an uplifting film about what one man can accomplish. It is also a story about how a man learns not to take himself so seriously, despite all he has achieved. It is also instructive about disabled people, something especially important today. As Pimentel himself said recently: A new wave of disabled people is rolling in with the tide of the Iraq war. Let's see if Americans really do support the troops this time, or is that just a slogan on a bumper sticker. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)