VOICES - AMC Academy 6, Fair City Mall, Loehmann's Plaza, West End Circle, Wheaton Plaza and White Flint.
Films about disabled people are in an early and elementary stage. Like blacks, Jews and independent women, the disabled have gone from being comic to being invisible to being perfect, and may one day move on to being human.
"Voices," like "Coming Home" and "Ice Castles," is a sweet picture about a physically handicapped person who is braver, more selfless, more talented and sexier than any able-bodied person could be. In this case, it is a deaf young woman, winningly played by Amy Irving, with whom a young musician falls in love. Accomplishments that would be sufficient for a hearing heroine are not enough for this paragon. Her being a successful teacher of deaf children is considered less important than her "overcoming" her handicap by mastering a profession in which hearing is usually an important part. She becomes a professional dancer.
Still, "Voices" is an advance in this primitive level of movie. Instead of pretending that deafness can be totally disguised, it states that the heroine understands only half of what is said to her without sign language, and her speaking voice is that of a deaf person. Stereotypical remarks are serveral times deftly and swiftly dismissed.
"It's a hard world out there," the heroine's mother says when cautioning her to play it safe. "It's a hard world in here," the girl replies. When the boy first takes her home, his family expresses surprise that she can talk. "Yeah, yeah, talks, walks - she does everything," he snaps back. And when he expresses his doubts about marrying her by confiding to his grandfather that "If she don't see me when I talk, she don't know what I'm saying," the old man suggests mildly, "You got to learn to look at her when you talk."
Now - what about the "normal" people? Naturally, they are unworthy. The hero of this film, as played by Michael Ontkean, is a rock musician with a heart, who lives in a mistily photographed scenic spot called Hoboken. But he is part of a three-generation Jewish male family, grandpa, papa and two boys, who are as soft-headed as they are soft-hearted, and who keep getting into trouble with neighborhood toughies of corresponding generations.
One might well ask why a woman of education would choose him, and suspect that it's being suggested that she's lucky to get a "normal" man, particularly one who takes the Trouble to sing to her in sign language. Let us assume, however, that the picture intends no such slur but has her love him because he is a simple soul who doesn't patronize her.
But if the filmmakers were truly sensitive to the problems of the deaf, why didn't they put subtitles in it?