A speech teacher falls in love with a deaf woman who is speechless by choice.
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Directed by Randa Haines
Written by Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff
Starring William Hurt, Marlee Matlin, Piper Laurie, Philip Bosco
Based on the stage play by Mark Medoff
Oscar Wins - Best Actress (Marlee Matlin)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Actor (William Hurt),
Best Supporting Actress (Piper Laurie), Best Adapted Screenplay
Thanks to her incredible performance in Children of a Lesser God, twenty-one-year-old Marlee Matlin became not only the youngest woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, but the first deaf actor ever to win an Oscar period. It wouldn't happen again until earlier this year, when deaf actor Troy Kotsur won for CODA. In her performance, Matlin expresses frustration, pain, love, stubbornness, joy, rage, and so much more, all without expressing a word. That is a skill that transcends performance, and it was absolutely mesmerizing. And the rest of the film is pretty good too.
James Leeds (Hurt) is an unconventional speech teacher who just took a job at a school for the deaf. He teaches the deaf students, some of whom have been deaf since birth, how to speak, which is no easy task. He notices the janitor, a deaf woman, can't read lips and offers to teach her to speak. Her name is Sarah (Matlin) and she is speechless by choice, so much so that she angrily refuses James's offer and storms off. James takes a different approach and soon, the two start spending time together and fall in love, but all the while this cloud of speech (or lack thereof) is hanging over them. The film casts actual deaf actors as deaf characters, which was very progressive at the time, and Hurt and Matlin's chemistry is fantastic.
Children of a Lesser God is a different kind of love story that shows love has no language barrier. Kindness comes in all shapes and sizes, and there's nothing wrong with being able to ask for help. I only wish Marlee Matlin had been able to parley her Oscar win into more mainstream success, but sadly that wasn't the case.