No Ordinary Hero
No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie 2013
The other day I was browsing through Netflix to see what superhero movies were available that I hadn’t covered yet and this was one of the ones that popped up. I thought it looked pretty terrible, but at just over an hour it seemed like the best choice to watch considering it was relatively late at night and I didn’t want to choose something I would have to split into two viewings. What makes this review somewhat difficult to write is that it’s difficult to make fun of this movie because it has such good intentions. It wants to be something important for the deaf community and in certain ways it seems to do that, but it doesn’t do nearly enough to make it a good movie. There are too many cliched storylines and mediocre acting that the message gets a little lost in the shuffle.
No Ordinary Hero follows a couple different characters. First off, there’s a kid named Jacob who’s dealing with being a nearly deaf kid trying to make it in a regular school. But things can’t be just that simple, there’s a generic bully who picks on the kid because he’s deaf in the most obvious and laughable way. And while it doesn’t go into the history of when he lost his hearing, it seems to be something that has happened within the past couple years or so. His father doesn’t know sign language and is forcing him to try and learn to read lips so he can fit in better with normal society. But the kid and his mom are both fluent in sign language, and in one of the most mind boggling aspects of this film is that he goes to a school that has an all deaf classroom with half a dozen kids in it. Even his teacher knows sign language but isn’t allowed to use it because of bureaucratic regulations.
The other character is an actor named Tony Hale who plays a character on a popular kids show called SuperDeafy. The show follows a format that seems like it’s aimed at preschoolers, though Jacob is a fan and he’s at least ten years old. SuperDeafy has a ridiculous pompadour wig with a couple weird danglies on the side and basically plays charades with Officer Norm and plays the buffoonish character who is constantly chastised by Norm. There isn’t much speech and when there is, it’s copied in large speech bubbles. And off screen the actor that plays Norm is a stereotypical jerk who makes fun of Tony and spends his off screen time flirting with the makeup girls. Tony realizes that SuperDeafy as a character is always being chastised for being wrong by the “normal” character and never really gets the chance to be an inspirational character for deaf kids.
Where the movie really falters is with all the side characters and the side stories. There’s the stereotypical romance where Jacob’s teacher is dating the jerk actor who plays officer Norm, but is attracted to Tony and vice versa. Once said jerk actor crosses the line, she breaks up with him and shortly afterwards gets with Tony and they have a schmaltzy romance. Meanwhile, Tony quits the show due to insensitive producers and since he is the creator of SuperDeafy that means the show gets cancelled. He eventually comes back around to do the show again on his own terms and fires the idiot producers in favor of probably the most famous deaf actor Marlee Matlin. He also goes on to inspire Jacob and the other kids in his class to make sign language and being deaf cool even though Jacob eventually ends up in the deaf class by the end of the movie. But that’s not all, there’s also a running thread about how Tony is interested in local policies and ends up running for City Council. But what is the most infuriating is that for some bizarre reason, they decide to give the actor Tony actual superpowers at the very end of the film when they show him being able to retrieve a SuperDeafy doll with telekinesis.
But there are some good elements to this film, especially for members of the deaf community. As a hearing person, and someone who has had nearly zero experience with anyone who has a hearing disability, I’m not exactly an expert as to how deafness should be handled in a movie. But considering that the director and the producers of this movie are all deaf and many of the actors are also legitimately deaf, it’s not hard to think that deafness in general is portrayed very faithfully and respectfully in this movie. For one thing, none of the deaf actors speak aloud. This is something that some deaf people are able to do with practice, but even the best ones have an accent that many hearing people think make them sound stupid. The only time there is speaking accompanying sign is when there’s an interpreter within the scene where it makes sense for there to be an interpreter there. And when there isn’t one there, the sign language has subtitles. There’s also the overall message of acceptance of deaf culture overall, but again that message is buried in a very mediocre story. There were a couple brief moments of comedy that I enjoyed, like the clueless actress auditioning for the “deaf role” or a background visual gag with a campaign button being thrown away. It’s difficult to be too hard on this film because it is a worthy subject and one that should have more representation in film, but this just isn’t the shining example that it should be. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.