A couple uses extremely black comedy to survive taking care of a daughter who is nearly completely brain dead. They take turns doing the daughter's voice and stare into the eyes of death and emotional trauma with a humor that hides their pain.
Alan Bates (Bri), Janet Suzman (Sheila), Peter Bowles (Freddie), Sheila Gish (Pam), Joan Hickson (Grace), Elizabeth Robillard (Jo), Murray Melvin (Doctor), Fanny Carby (Nun), Constance Chapman (Moonrocket Lady), Elizabeth Tyrrell (Midwife), Jean Marsh (Woman on the Moon Rocket (uncredited))
From the same director
David Deutsch (producer)
This film is both shocking and daring. It is also very human and in the face of a seemingly impossible domestic scenario, how a very ordinary married couple cope with their cerebral palsy afflicted daughter. Or not cope. And how friends and an archetypal in-law all giving their best intentions on just what is best.
The sexual fantasies often seem out-of-place, though whilst not crude, maybe are intended to shock. But as Sheila, the mother is utterly devoted to the unfortunate 'Joe Egg' with the never-ending ritual of her care, Brian finds all channels of marital coupling closed to him.
It is not a particularly enjoyable film. Nor a worthy one, in that it neither champions any cause, nor knocks any, either. Maybe we expect ourselves to be upset or feel awkward about little Josephine, the child.
But with astonishing performances from Alan Bates and Janet Suzman as the parents, who also play many of the key supporting parts too, we are distracted by their strange fantasies and antics as they themselves become the troubled and bizarre characters, not the subject and cause of their anxieties. The child remains a passive bystander witnessing (or not) the unravelling pantomime around her. Balancing the bizarre is the everyday reality of life so that it doesn't all get too ridiculous.
As it was made almost 40 years ago, it does seem astonishingly brave to even have been thought suitable for a film, back then, though it was based on Peter Nicol's own stage play. Hence there is a large element of admiration whilst viewing and an acceptance almost, in its sheer audacity that there will be parts which won't sit easily with everyone. Thankfully there are no swelling of strings, either orchestrally or of the heart as sentimentality would totally undermine the whole film - we are witnesses rather than being asked to make a judgement or opinion. Though not a great film, it displays both directorial flair and imagination. And very British, though at the start of the 70's we didn't generally make good films. This one is and one that is certainly memorable - and for one on such a contentious issue, memorable to the good where it so easily could all have been a horrible mistake.
Actress Janet Suzman said of this film around the time it was made and released: "We had to learn the simple business of how to cope with a child - how to open its mouth and feed it, how to lift it, how to bath it. We had a medical advisor on the film - a woman doctor who has been very successful in that field - and she told us whenever we went wrong. Alan [Bates] and I were both dreading going to the hospital, because we didn't know what to expect. But when you get over that selfish reaction, you begin to appreciate what is being done. You ruffle a little head and you are rewarded with a mindless smile of such joy. It is almost an affirmation of faith, if you want to think in those terms. All the arguments for mercy killings go overboard because in the end, it's a choice between life and death. This is a living human being. It's your child and you love it".
Mihaszna Joe halálának egy napja (Hungary) • Joe Egg (World-wide (English title) (informal short title))
Australia:M / United Kingdom:X / United Kingdom:15 / United States:R
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