Monday, April 21, 2008

Deaf community abuzz with varied reviews of "Sweet Nothing in My Ear'

Marlee Matlin in "Sweet Nothing in My Ear."

The Hallmark Hall of Fame CBS movie, "Sweet Nothing in My Ear," drew varied reviews around the blogosphere after its airing April 20. The TV movie was based on Stephen Sachs' play about parents dealing with their young son's hearing loss and the possibility of a cochlear implant for him. It starred hearing actor Jeff Daniels and Academy Award-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin, as well as a number of other talented deaf actors.

It delved into many topics about deaf culture that one doesn't usually see on TV, so that was a positive aspect of the movie. But I found the technique it used to let hearing viewers know what the deaf characters were saying very annoying. All the deaf characters (when they weren't in the courtroom scene where there were interpreters) were given voice-overs, which I found jarring, especially the voice for Marlee Matlin. As a Matlin fan, I have heard her deaf accent many times so I (and many others who have seen her performances) know what her voice sounds like. I realize she was supposed to play a deaf person who doesn't speak, but I couldn't associate the voice used for her as her because everytime I heard it I knew it wasn't her.

Also, when she does use her long-time interpreter, Jack Jason, a male voice is heard. So in my mind, Marlee Matlin has either her own voice or a male interpreter voice. I know it may seem like a small detail, but the voice-overs really damaged the movie's potential impact, IMHO. Was there a reason that subtitles couldn't be used instead?

And I felt Marlee Matlin's passionate acting style was more subdued in this movie. According to the RLMDeaf Blog's reporting of a Washington Post story, the director of the "Sweet Nothing in My Ear" required that Matlin only use American Sign Language (ASL) and never move her lips while signing. "Director Joseph Sargent repeatedly instructed Actress Marlee Matlin not to open her lips while signing to capture the accurate and pure ASL use for this telemovie" according to RLMDeaf.

As I have said many times, I am a big fan of Marlee Matlin, but her performance in "Sweet Nothing" didn't seem to have that usual sizzle. Probably because she was forced to communicate is way that was not natural to her. Or maybe I just missed her speaking.

Here's a roundup of some of the reviews:

Jim's Deep Thought Blog on how the movie represented the tension between old deaf culture and new deaf culture.

Banjo's World Blog on how the movie "made every single character appear human, simple and plain. They don't make anyone out to be a heartless monster. The movie itself is neither supportive nor against cochlear implants."

Allison Kaftan of the Blog said she liked the movie because she felt the cochlear implant issue "is about the deaf community’s struggle for self-recognition, and about the hearing community’s campaign to maintain its systemic marginalizing practices without necessarily appearing ignorant. Today’s heated discussions about people who support, choose, or live with a cochlear implant is a continuation of that tradition of anxiety over the deaf community’s continued lack of integration/recognition. That’s why I like this movie so much. Though the cochlear implant is almost a character of its own, the film ends on a happy/sappy note as Laura and Dan realize that what’s best for Adam is for them to arrive at decisions like this together, rather than basing it on their own individual selfish desires."

Paotie's Green Couch Blog says children should be left out of deaf politics.

Candy's Blog felt the movie was much ado about nothing, because at the end of the movie, no decision is made about whether the child will get a cochlear implant or not.

And an ignorant "deafness is a handicap" hearing perspective from Huffington Post writer, Michael Russnow, who thinks not giving someone a cochlear implant is "political correctness gone too far."