Radio is a sweet-natured but uneven true-life tale about the effect of a mentally challenged young man on the lives of the people in his small Southern community in the mid-‘70s. The mood is part Remember the Titans and part Rain Man, but not exactly on a par with either (especially the latter, which is a classic).
Too often, Radio director Mike Tollin manipulates the audience with an obvious paint-by-numbers approach to the story’s ripe emotions. Still, the forthright performances by Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr. lend richness and integrity to what could have been an overly saccharine enterprise.
Gooding is James Robert Kennedy, but everybody calls him Radio, because he’s never far from one or more of his collection of portable transistors. Shy and simple-minded, he ambles about town, pushing a grocery cart before him. He’s very much a young boy in the body of a man. In fact, he’s the pure innocent, which is why he’s so unsettling to the folks in his small South Carolina hometown.
Harris is Harold Jones, the coach of the local high school football team. One day he happens upon several of his star players teasing and tormenting the unfortunate Radio. He has the boys run wind sprints as punishment, but he also realizes that getting to know Radio might be a positive experience for his players. So he lets the young man hang around as a part team mascot and part equipment manager.
Since he’s a lonely lad whose only regular contact is with his dedicated mother, Radio thrives with the coach and the team – though some of the players continue to torment him. They’re a little delayed in getting the film’s messages. And those messages? Don’t judge a book by his cover and trust in the importance of friendship, loyalty and decency.
But the overly excitable Radio proves to be a distraction at practice and on the sideline – and a few of the parents begin to worry that he’ll detract from their sons’ chances to win. (Since Radio is African-American and the team is white, Racism may also be at play. But that aspect is rather conveniently ignored.) Jack Garner, Rochester, NY, Democrat and Chronicle
Jack gave the film a 6 out of 10, but I liked this film better. I would have given it an 8 or 9.
The time depicted is back in the 70s when many of the State Schools around the country were being deinstitutionalized and there was an epidemic of NIMBY going around the country. NIMBY is "Not In My Backyard". We were trying to "mainstream" or integrate the developmentally disabled into regular society instead of segregating them into institutions. Many of us "normal" folks, especially us more liberal thinkers thought this was grand as long as we weren't inconvienced in any way. People with special needs often inconvenience us, and yet once we get past the annoyance, fear, and irritation, we find that people with special needs have gifts that enrich our lives in marvelous ways.
As the movie develops we like Radio more and more. People keep asking Coach Jones, "Why are you doing this?" and he never has a good answer. It is too easy to say "Because it is the right thing to do" but maybe, for some of us, at least, that is the right answer. It is the right thing to do and it will make better people out of us and enrich our society in ways we hadn't imagined.
I highly recommend this movie. I enjoyed it a lot. I think Cuba Gooding, Jr. did a great job portraying this real life person.
Democrat and Chronicle -- Entertainment -- Rochester, NY