[box cover]

Children of a Lesser God

Randa Haines's Children of a Lesser God might have impressed this writer more if he hadn't already seen the director's much better Dance with Me, a film that employs similar cinematic clichés to much greater effect. This 1986 offering — a cult favorite among fans of mushy faux sentimentality — attempts to tell the story of John Leeds (William Hurt), a special-education teacher, and his increasingly complex relationship with the deaf and mute Sarah (Marlee Martin), a former student who now works as a janitor. Although Leeds initially wants nothing more than to teach the reclusive prodigy how to speak, he finds himself coming increasingly under her spell. Eventually the pair becomes lovers — a fact that doesn't sit well with either the school's principal (Philip Bosco) or Sarah's estranged but still overprotective mother (Piper Laurie). The film's flaws aren't in the performances, which are consistently exquisite (Marlee Matlin took home a Best Actress Oscar for her work here, but William Hurt's portrayal of Leeds is no less striking, emphasizing the conflicting emotions his character supposedly is feeling). The problem with Children of a Lesser God is that such atypical characters are forced to share the screen with a plot unworthy of their charisma and ideals. Very little of the story is devoted to the unique problems of a relationship between a deaf woman and a hearing man, including their difficulty finding a happy medium between sound and silence. Worst of all, the few token struggles that the characters are forced to deal with are handled in such a trite fashion that it's hard to take them seriously. So much potential existed for thoughtful, introspective drama that the story's reliance on formula is, quite simply, inexcusable. Unfortunately, Paramount's DVD presentation of the film doesn't improve the rather mediocre impression modern viewers are likely to be left with once the movie's credits begin to roll. Apart from a lovely anamorphic widescreen transfer (in an unspecified aspect ratio that appears to be 1.85:1) and a rather mundane theatrical trailer, there's little to interest the digital connoisseur. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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