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Pimentel's Life and Work Portrayed in Music Within

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2008 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Pimentel's Life and Work Portrayed in <i>Music Within</i>

DVD Release Date:  April 8, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  October 26, 2007 (limited)
Rating:  R (for language, including sexual references, and some drug content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  94 min.
Director:  Steven Sawalich
Actors:  Ron Livingston, Melissa George, Michael Sheen, Yul Vazquez, Hector Elizondo, Rebecca DeMornay

By the time Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston, best known for TV’s Sex and the City) was born, his mother (Rebecca DeMornay, Wedding Crashers) had already lost seven babies.  This made her a bit, well, crazy.  So despite the happy news of Richard’s little arrival, she thinks he’s dead, too.  When she finally realizes that her baby is, in fact, alive, she gives him up for adoption.  A few years later, she takes him back. Then she gives him up again—and so on, and so on, until poor little Richard should be crazy, too.

Fortunately, he isn’t.  And even though his father dies, Richard finds his calling onstage, as a public speaker.  He wins competition after competition, then applies for a scholarship to college, only to be rejected because he’s not “convincing” about his beliefs.  “Get a point of view!” says the judge (Hector Elizondo).  “A real one!” 

Richard promptly enlists in the Army and ships out for Vietnam.  Over there, he loses his hearing and returns to discover that no one will pay for college because of the injury.  After all, as they say, he won’t ever be able to sustain a job.  What’s the point?  Richard goes anyway, where he succeeds and falls in love with a young blonde named Christine (Melissa George, 30 Days of Night). 

After graduation, Richard lands a well-paying insurance job by hiding his disability.  But soon, he’s hanging around other disabled vets like Mike (Yul Vazquez), as well as a foul-mouthed genius named Art (Michael Sheen), who has cerebral palsy.  After seeing the way his friends are treated by society, Richard goes to work on their behalf, helping vets find work.  Soon, he’s making landmark strides, speaking before Congress, the CIA and Fortune 500 companies.  If only his personal life was going as well.

Written by the novice screenwriters Bret McKinney and Mark Andrew Olsen (One Night with the King) and directed by the equally inexperienced Steven Sawalich, Music Within is nevertheless a solid attempt at a biopic.  Despite some cinematic shortcomings, it has good acting, a great soundtrack and a great message about the importance of being kind—and fair—to people with disabilities.

It’s hard to remember when things were this bad—people calling those with cerebral palsy “spazzes” and “morons” and openly making fun of Vietnam vets.  It’s been a long time.  But until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, with which Pimentel is largely credited, people with disabilities were frequently discriminated against in the workplace, as well.  So Pimentel’s work on their behalf is a laudable accomplishment, and one definitely worth learning about.  (Don’t forget to watch the interview with the real Pimentel in the DVD extra.)

Although he doesn’t look like a college student—and doesn’t age very much over the 30 year span of the film—Livingston does a good job with the role.  He’s a little deadpan, but he’s funny and winsome, and we want him to succeed.  As the angry Mike, Yul Vazquez is also notable.  But the standout is Michael Sheen (Blood Diamond), who transforms himself into Art, the likeable but severely disabled cerebral palsy victim.  He’s hard to watch, Art, but he’s convincing—and convicting, especially if you’ve ever averted your gaze from someone like him.  

The plot unfortunately leaves much to be desired.  It’s an interesting story, but McKinney and Olsen wrap it around Richard’s love affair with Christine, which can’t sustain the weight.  Because Richard’s success comes fairly early in the film, the climax is about them, instead—and neither the relationship nor the characters have the substance to sustain that kind of momentum.  As a result, everything loses steam about 60 minutes into the film.

Sawalich is also a bit heavy-handed with his point.  Everyone stares at Art, and everyone but Richard, Christine and the other vets make cruel fun of him.  In one scene, a pancake house waitress refuses to serve Richard and Art, even though it’s Art’s birthday.  She is positively vicious to Art—then has them arrested for violating what Richard calls the “Ugly Law.”  Twenty years later, they return to the same diner, where the waitress fawns and flirts with Art like he’s Brad Pitt

Okay, we get it.  The A.D.A. made everyone instantaneously abandon their prejudices.  Not.  It’s still a worthwhile movie to watch, especially for the history lesson and the message.  Just don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Audio commentary by director/producer Seven Sawalich, writer Kelly Kennemer and producer Brett Donowho
  • “The Making of the Music” featurette
  • “Richard Pimentel Tells His Story”
  • Deleted Scenes

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters drink and smoke throughout film; some drug use as well.
  • Language/Profanity:  Obscenities and profanities, as well as some crude sexual references.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Several sexual scenes (no nudity) and ongoing sexual talk and references, including a character who has an “open relationship” with a man.
  • Violence:  Soldiers patrol countryside of Vietnam with guns, with deadly fire and explosions; man explodes with rage and breaks a glass door; a few angry exchanges; a mother is verbally and emotionally abusive with her son.