NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

“The Ringer:” Lighthearted fun or deeply problematic?

If someone told you that there was a comedic movie, about a normal man who lies to compete in The Special Olympics, you would be rightly outraged. This is the basic plot of the movie “The Ringer” but the movie is deeper than that in the way it depicts its characters.

Before we look at this movie, we must look at the history of The Special Olympics. The first Special Olympics was held on June 20th, 1968 and it was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver who previously had a camp for kids with disabilities. According to The Special Olympics website “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”

The movie The Ringer was directed by the Farley brothers and stars Johnny Knoxville. On the surface this movie may seem like a problematic film. But it’s actually deeply heartwarming. Knoxville plays a man who goes into debt after causing an accident which injures his gardener. To get the cash to save him Knoxville and his uncle decide to put him in The Special Olympics as a athlete. Knoxville passes as an athlete to the event organizers. He goes in thinking it will be easy, but he is wrong. Also, all the athletes competing realize that he is not special needs. They do not tell any of the event organizers so they can make a fool out of him. Some of the athletes though try and help Knoxville after he explains his situation.

What makes this movie so good is the steps that the film makers went through to make sure they were not discriminating against special needs people. The first major step the film makers took was giving The Special Olympics organization full control over the script. This paid off because the input of The Special Olympics Organization helped make sure that the characters were realistically written and humanized. The next thing the film makers did was cast 150 actual special needs actors in the film. Even the main cast was made up of mostly special needs actors. These two major steps the film makers took worked because they received praise and endorsement from the organization.

The chairman of Special Olympics Tim Shriver said in a press release “Beyond improving the lives of our athletes on the playing field, a key goal of Special Olympics is to change attitudes of nondisabled young people about people with intellectual disabilities, dispelling negative stereotypes. Humor can be a very effective way to reach young people and the Farrellys are masters of both.”

One  of the actors from the film who is an actual Special Olympics athlete Eddie Barbanell also said in the press release “This movie does not mock people with intellectual disabilities. When you see this movie, laugh with us, not at us. See us as human beings and people just like you and watch us showcase our talents.”

I think most importantly though the movie leaves you with the message that you should not be condescending to people. Throughout the film the main volunteers for the event are overly condescending to the athletes and the athletes take advantage of it. When Knoxville talks to them, he just talks normally and because of that him and the athletes become better friends.

I can relate to that as I am a volunteer for my local chapter of special Olympics and my sister has autism. Throughout all her life I have seen people treat her like a child just because she has autism. But as her brother I know she is smarter than that and I can talk to her normally I just may have to explain a couple of things or word them differently. The same can be said about other special needs kids.

With comedy nothing is off limits, success in that field depends on how you spin it. With “The Ringer” it does an outstanding job of taking such a taboo subject such as people with disabilities and spins it into a positive movie. Instead of taking the easy way out and laughing at the people with disabilities we laugh with them.