The film we choose to critique is “Radio” starring Cuba Gooding Jr and Ed Harris. It is based on a true story of James Robert “Radio” Kennedy and tells the story of how a man who is mentally retarded begins a
friendship with a beloved football coach. The coach takes him under his wing, which upsets the town and through some trials eventually wins everyone over.
The movie opens with Radio pushing his cart through the street and shows a woman shuffling her child away from him, a man staring at him and a man who almost runs him over calling him a “moron.” I liked that they started this way to establish what he goes through on a daily basis. Gooding’s character is constantly looking down and making gestures with his right hand allowing the viewer to realize that he has some sort of disability. The film makers also altered his teeth, making one buck and one chipped which I will return in my conclusion.
In the first dramatic scene, the footballers lock Radio in a shed to torment him and Coach Jones, who finds him, is appalled. This is establishing how the coach and Radio become connected and later we learn why it touches the coach so profoundly when Coach Jones was young and found a child with some sort of mentally disability locked under a house in a cage and he did nothing and it had haunted him his entire life.
The film never establishes the exact cause of his disability but when Coach asks his mother what was wrong with him, she says the doctor just says “he is a little slower than most.” As the coach befriends him, he learns that he loves radios and begins calling him Radio.
As the coach is trying to integrate Radio into the team as an assistant and friend, the principal stops him from going on the team bus to a game. The next scene shows Radio playing football in the rain while his beloved radio plays in the background. The director did a nice job of symbolism here using the rain to represent sadness, tears, obstacles and to show how the radio that is playing doesn’t stop in the rain and Radio, the player doesn’t stop in the rain. Nothing can stop him.
Another scene that I thought was worthy of noting and perhaps it is a coincidence but when the coach and Radio go out to eat at a restaurant, the other customers stare and snicker and the Coach notices it but continues talking with Radio. The irony here is that the restaurant was called “Lenny’s” which I think the director threw in since we know the classic character who also had a mental disability was named Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.”
The town barber shop acts as a place for football talk with coffee being symbolic of how football is going for the year and how Radio is changing it. At the beginning of the film, Coach walks in and has fresh coffee which is “delicious.” Later as the town is disapproving of how Coach is letting Radio be part of the team, he walks into the barber shop and has the coffee. The other customers start to badger him about getting rid of Radio because he is causing so many problems. The scene ends with Coach walking out stating “Coffee has been better, Dale.”
As the movie continues, in typical Hollywood fashion, Radio begins winning over the townspeople but there is still a bully and his bully father who torment him. At the end of the movie, that bully gives radio his letter jacket.
All in all this was a good movie but I am not sure how accurate it was at showing the actual disability but it was entertaining. The film makers portrayed the character as a one with a good heart and this helped him succeed in the movie.
The movie took place in the 1970’s, as I noticed that there were references to “Charlie’s Angels” and “All in the Family” and for those of you much younger than I am, those aired in the 70’s. I think times were different then and I hope I am not naive but I would hope that a person with mentally disabilities would not be locked in a shed and tormented but I also know there are very cruel people out there whom still think this is funny and acceptable behavior.
In closing I think that the IDEA and the No Child Left Behind issue have helped make this film and others like it go mainstream in entertainment. I know that over time, more and more movies like this will be made and applauded and I know that was not necessarily the case 30 or 40 years ago. However with that being said I am not really sure Hollywood has come that far. As I mentioned above Gooding had his teeth altered for this film with his buck tooth and another tooth chipped. Sadly I noticed on the DVD jacket featuring the movie and the pictures of the character–look closely and you will notice Cuba’s teeth are perfect and he never made a trip to the dentist in the movie.
That, to me, shows that Hollywood may make a film about a mentally disabled person but it still wants its actors to look perfect because it is really all about the bottom line and that is money.