The past year has been the best yet for films which honestly tackle issues, attitudes and anxieties that swirl around the forever-changed worlds of the disabled (cross-references below). The disabled can be divided into two large groups: visible and invisible. What would happen, then, if a paraplegic—already abandoned by her family prior to injury—comes under the loving care of a manic depressive who talks to goldfish? Frank Cappello’s imaginative and insight-filled film takes no prisoners as it delves into life—after the bullet from an enraged office worker lodges into the spinal cord of the wrong target.
Cappello’s brilliant script and expert storytelling would merely be interesting if anyone other than Christian Slater had been cast as Bob Maconel. In a menial office job, the disgruntled employee dreams of offing his fellow tormentors and then himself. In his calmly controlled, increasingly disturbed voiceovers, we learn of his hates (most staff), loves (Vanessa—an upwardly mobile executive whose first-rate blow jobs have moved her career ahead faster than a speeding zipper), and fantasies (carrying a red-button detonator in his briefcase is akin to Linus’ security blanket).
In a spectacular twist, there is carnage in the workplace, but it’s Bob who becomes an instant hero just as quickly as Vanessa (Elisha Cuthbert, whose “should have let me die” outburst is done with the desperate agony that few can really appreciate) becomes paralyzed.
Bob is quickly promoted by Gene Shelby (William H. Macy oozes easily through his scenes) his slimy CEO to become VP of Creative Thinking, given a company car and ensconced in Vanessa’s former office. This role reversal is key to the growing relationship as Bob takes on the onerous task of caring for his fantasy woman and acceding to every desire whether it be assisting her suicide attempt (before which their last supper in a swanky restaurant affords Cappello the opportunity of skewering the privileged) or helping her know his intimate desire, even though the sensation of touch can be seen but not felt in their beautifully understated love scene.
Courage has much to do with the subtext. A remarkable moment of Vanessa’s return to the scene of her crime and the spot-on shallowness from former co-workers (Jamison Jones leads the pack as Bob’s one-time manager) whose reactions range from “Anything I can do …” to “Why make it with a gimp?” But the dumb blonde’s line, “Maniacs will think twice before going crazy” should have found its way to the floor of the edit suite.
With his vastly altered circumstances, Bob becomes more aggressive, innovative (a water cooler at every desk to encourage inter-office communication) and loving. He learns to care for a human being, not just a tank of wise-cracking fish. But the happy ending after a miserable start takes another troubling turn that may well be playing out to various degrees in the real-life dramas of the infirm and their caregivers everywhere. Vanessa appears to be recovering. Bob wonders if she would ever have been with him had it not been for the bullet; when asked, Vanessa cannot find the “L” word, for in her heart, which survived the injury intact, there are feelings and emotions that even a life-saving hero cannot overcome.
And so Bob does what so many “quiet” people do. His unseen illness trumps hers, delivering Cappello’s message magnificently. JWR