Challenging, thoughtful, reflective — this is one of the best films on mentally challenged adults ever presented. Instead of a didactic documentary crammed with testimonials, archival footage and dry analysis, “Me, Too” challenges perspectives on a basic human need in a sensitive, respectful, dramatic context.
Daniel (superbly played by Pablo Pineda) begins working at a job in social services in Seville, Spain. He is documented as the first European Down’s Syndrome (DS) person to have graduated from a university. His parents, especially his mother, nurtured him from infancy to reach his fullest potential. Now he is ready to join the workforce and society as a normal guy.
But how far will his mother really let him go?
The stereotypes of a DS person can include intellectual challenges, a peaceful, unaggressive nature, stubbornness and an accepting naiveté. Daniel openly talks about his obvious physical differences: his big tongue that makes talking difficult, his short stature, and his body-type that won’t ever revert to being skinny.
Laura (Lola Duenas), the office worker who befriends Daniel, contorts her face in the mirror to look like her new friend. However, as soon as she realizes that he is attracted to her romantically she becomes confused.
As she tells Daniel, she’s slept with more men than would fit in a big hotel. She not only doesn’t seem to be selective about her partners, there’s no evidence that she even likes them.
At her core Laura is estranged from all the people she is close to. Her father is dying and the family is asking her to visit him. Why does she find it so hard to go to the hospital? Her family is begging for her participation and she ignores their calls. Instead she gets drunk and sleeps with a real jerk who disgusts her.
Who’s the real handicapped person here?
The only person on earth Laura appears to trust and be able to have fun with is Daniel. But what role does his DS play in the likelihood of a romance with her … and how does it affect our perception of him as a viable partner?
I have talked to individuals from a spectrum of ages and experience about the issues in this film.
The first reaction my friend, in her 80’s, had was mixed. She’s from an age and tradition when romance was related to marriage and children, not a “recreation.” She has questions about health issues and worries about the emotional damage that might occur for someone so trusting and honest as the DS people are portrayed in this film.
This is what is at the crux of the conflict in the film. In “Me, Too” parents try to protect their DS offspring who are now young adults. But as my friend pragmatically notes, perhaps the best protection would really be strong sex-ed classes.
Some viewers may worry about people having children who have trouble independently managing their own lives. In this film’s case, since it is studying DS young adults exclusively, please note that DS men are basically infertile. But because of health issues, the film responsibly includes a sequence on protection.
In my women’s group, where some have relatives with mental challenges, one woman explained that she would never want to see her brother taken advantage of. A younger gal, who works at a group home, told the story of parents who took their adult daughter from a group home because their daughter had been involved in consensual sex.
Rights, rules, restrictions, laissez-faire – opinions were sharp and abrupt.
I also explained this film’s conflict to a group of high school seniors. In the film there is a parallel situation to Daniel’s where one parent absolutely refuses to let her DS daughter, who says she is in love, have a romantic relationship with a DS man she has gotten to know in her dance class. A Romeo and Juliet analogy?
My proudly gay student spoke up first saying that parents always want to protect their children from unhappiness. He explained that they want the best possible life for their child and that it’s just natural for them to be over-protective because they worry their child could get hurt.
Having grown up with the inclusion of all types of handicaps and personality diversity in their classes since kindergarten, these seniors came to the conclusion that every case is different. However, they also ended up instructing me that it isn’t a person’s degree of intelligence that should matter.
They passionately argued that only people who should definitely have romantic restrictions are those who are emotionally disturbed – and that, they agreed with big-eyed acknowledgment (and possibly unfortunate experience), is a completely different issue – with a frontier of gray that may never be determined.
The bottom line for these high school students was that it’s not so much the degree of intelligence, but the depth of kindness and integrity that matters most in a romantic relationship.
Overall “Me, Too” is an important movie that asks crucial questions about the personal rights of the handicapped person and our own possible prejudices.
The only uncomfortable part in the film was its ending sequence (which I won’t reveal). There appears to be an illogical shift at the end. Perhaps the filmmakers were interjecting more of their own perspective and attitude than what would logically follow to be Daniel’s.
Perhaps the last 20 minutes loses a sense of vérité, but this is a thought-provoking film that resounds with feeling and renewed respect for our Down’s Syndrome population. Questions about guardianship, human rights, and our own bias about what characteristics make a suitable partner make this film one of the most important films on the rights of mentally challenged people ever presented.
Opens Nov. 19
Showing in: New York City @ Cinema Village, 11/19
Los Angeles @ Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 11/26
Screenplay and Directors: Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro
Cast: Lola Duenas, Pablo Pineda, Antonia Naharro
Runtime: 103 minutes
Language: In Spanish with English Subtitles
US Release: Nov. 19, 2010 in NYC, Nov. 26, 2010 in LA
Presented by: Olive Films
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