Sweet Nothing in My Ear



9-11 p.m. Sunday, April 20

Although definitely not a sequel, some striking parallels exist between "Sweet Nothing in My Ear" and "Love Is Never Silent," a Hallmark Hall of Fame production broadcast more than 22 years ago.

Both films expose viewers into the world and culture of the deaf. Both have superior acting, including supporting roles for deaf actors Phyllis Frelich and Ed Waterstreet. Both were sensitively and smartly directed by Joseph Sargent and reflect the intricate and intelligent drama for which executive producer Marian Rees is known.

But "Never Silent" had the courage of its convictions, even if it meant emotional pain for characters we like and respect. "Sweet Nothing," perhaps out of a misguided desire to avoid offense, stubbornly refuses to make hard choices, leaving its characters and its viewers in an unsatisfied state of dramatic limbo.

"Sweet Nothing," adapted by Stephen Sachs from his own play, dramatizes the controversy over cochlear implants within the deaf community. Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin play Dan Miller, who can hear, and his wife, Laura, who is deaf. Their son, Adam (Noah Valencia), though born with hearing, became deaf when he was about 5. Now, three years later, a doctor recommends that Dan consider cochlear implants for his son.

The implants don't cure deafness, but they transmit sounds to the brain. The implant includes a speech processor, microphone and transmitter, which can be adjusted to the individual. With the implant, a deaf person may hear and understand sounds and words and gain an ability to speak. As a rule, implants are most successful when performed on children because their brains are still developing.

Critics of the implants, most of them in the deaf community, argue that deaf people already have a culture and (sign) language and that the implant robs deaf people of their identity and suggests that they are defective. Dan passionately makes the case for the implants; Laura is equally vehement in her opposition.

The story is told mostly through flashbacks during a custody hearing. The arguments are carefully framed, convincingly argued and smoothly inserted in the dramatic context of a formerly tight-knit, loving family now on the verge of collapse. Ultimately, a decision must be reached -- even if it is made clear that one decision doesn't necessarily fit all -- but Sachs' story pretends otherwise. That indecision robs this otherwise superb movie of much of its impact.

Matlin is strong in all the right places, as is Daniels, who learned sign language expressly for the film. Noah, new to acting, has been deaf since birth and is the child of deaf parents and grandparents. Sargent's insight, pacing and ability to elicit a strong performance from the 9-year-old newcomer are truly impressive.

Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods.
Executive producers: Marian Rees, Brent Shields
Produced by: Anne Hopkins
Producer-director: Joseph Sargent
Teleplay/based on the play by: Stephen Sachs
Director of photography: Donald M. Morgan
Production designer: Barbara Dunphy
Editor: Michael L. Brown
Music: Charles Bernstein
Casting: Molly Lopata
Dan Miller: Jeff Daniels
Laura Miller: Marlee Matlin
Adam Miller: Noah Valencia
Joanna Tate: Sonya Walger
Max: Ed Waterstreet
Sally: Phyllis Frelich
Dr. Flynt: John Rubinstein
Leonard Grisham: David Oyelowo
Jennifer Kramer: Carlease Burke
Valerie Parks: Shoshanna Stern